A FAMILY TRAGEDY \ Glendale father arrested in fire that killed 7.
A 40-year-old man was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of murder and arson after his wife and six children died in their apartment, which had been doused with gasoline and set afire.
Police said it was the deadliest fire and worst multiple homicide in Glendale’s history.
The suspect was identified as Jorjik “George” Avanesian. The victims were his wife, Turan Soroush, 37, and their six children, who ranged in age from 4 to 17.
Avanesian “admitted to our investigators and others throughout the day that he did in fact set the fire,” said Glendale police Lt. Raymond Edey.
“Every indication is that he knew who was in the apartment and that they would probably perish as a result of the fire,” Edey said.
Edey said Avanesian acknowledged a long history of domestic discord with his wife. He said the suspect was cooperative with investigators, but added: “I haven’t seen any outward indication of remorse.”
Avanesian, an Armenian immigrant from Iran, agreed to turn himself in to police after meeting with the editor of Tehran Magazine, a Farsi-language Magazine based in Encino.
Homayoun Houshiar Nejad, the publisher of the newspaper, said Avanesian told him he killed his wife because he believed she was cheating on him. Houshiar Nejad said the suspect also admitted trying to kill her at least four times in the past.
The fire, which was reported to the Glendale Fire Department at 5:49 a.m., was confined to the one-bedroom apartment unit the family shared on the first floor of the three-story apartment building at 1319 E. Harvard St. in Glendale.
Neighbors said they awoke to a loud explosion, then saw black smoke in their hallway.
“We couldn’t see anything. My mother fell down the stairs getting out,” Mary Kissablak said. “When we finally got outside, we saw that Apartment 102 was on fire.”
Firefighters fought through a wall of flames and found the victims inside, said Dave Starr, fire marshal for the Glendale Fire Department.
Four family members were found huddled around the bathtub in the bathroom; three other victims were discovered in the bedroom.
Six of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene. A seventh, a 4-year-old boy, was rushed to Glendale Adventist Medical Center after showing possible signs of life, but he was pronounced dead on arrival, police said.
Glendale police Sgt. Jon Perkins said it appeared that all of the victims died from smoke inhalation and had not been hurt before the fire started.
Police said they were awaiting formal identification of the bodies from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, but tentatively identified the victims as Roland Avanesian, 4, Romic Avanesian, 6, Rodric Avanesian, 8, Ranika Avanesian, 9, Rita Avanesian, 16, Roobina Avanesian, 17, and the children’s mother, Soroush, 37.
Police would not speculate on a motive, except to say that Avanesian had a long-running dispute with his wife.
Edey said Avanesian was arrested Nov. 4 on suspicion of felony child abuse, but that the District Attorney’s Office decided not to file formal charges in lieu of counseling.
In that arrest, Avanesian’s family told police he had brandished a knife in a “threatening manner” at his 17-year-old daughter, and in an earlier incident Oct. 27 had slapped his 8-year-old son and thrown a chair at him.
No one was injured in either incident, and the wife told authorities at the time that the situation was “under control,” Edey said.
A district attorney’s hearing officer referred Avanesian to the Armenian Relief Society for counseling, but officials with the agency said he never showed up.
“They hadn’t been in this country very long,” said Dale Bootow, the hearing officer for the District Attorney’s Office, adding that the couple was on welfare and that Avanesian had been ill.
“I don’t think he had a job, or he had just lost a job and they were having problems.”
Milo Speriglio, director of Nick Harris Detective Bureau and Academy in Van Nuys, said Avanesian recently tried to hire his agency to follow the wife.
Speriglio said Avanesian told an investigator that he had served jail time in Iran for trying to stab his wife, and wished to divorce her and keep the children.
“We didn’t want to work with him – he admitted he didn’t like his wife one bit and wanted to kill her,” Speriglio said.
Immediately after Tuesday’s fire, police identified Avanesian as a possible suspect. At around 7 a.m., his sister had called Glendale police and notified them that Avanesian had shown up briefly with burns to his forehead and hands, told her he had set his apartment on fire, then left.
Avanesian reportedly telephoned the Encino office of the Farsi-language Tehran Mgazine about 10 a.m., saying he had a story regarding a fire and people being killed, according to publisher Shahbod Noori.
Shahbod Noori suggested Avanesian call Houshiar Nejad, publisher of Asre Emrooz, whose offices are in the same Ventura Boulevard office building.
Avanesian did not have a car, so Houshiar Nejad offered to pick him up on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, at the phone booth from which he had called, Houshiar Nejad said through an interpreter.
Houshiar Nejad said he brought Avanesian back to his office, where Avanesian – smoking cigarettes and with his left hand badly burned – said he poured gasoline on the seven sleeping occupants of the house and set his wife afire with a lighted match.
Houshiar Nejad said Avanesian seemed “very normal,” although he said he had been in a mental hospital several times and had tried to kill his wife four times in the past.
Avanesian surrendered to Los Angeles Police Department officers around noon and was turned over to Glendale police, who transported him back to the Glendale city jail.
Medea Kalognomos, a Glendale High School counselor who knew two of the victims, 17-year-old Roobina and 16-year-old Rita, said the teens were eager to learn and do well in school.
“They were great kids, some of the most motivated, conscientious students I’ve ever met,” Kalognomos said. “They were so eager to learn, so eager to start a new life in America.
“They loved the freedom, loved the idea that things were possible for them here.”
“I told them that now they were in America, they could feel safe,” she said through tears. “This is unbelievable, that here, this happens.”
The younger children, who attended John Marshal Elementary School, also were good students, said Principal Nancy Jude.
The family moved into the one-bedroom Harvard Terrace apartment Oct. 1, but told management they had four children, said manager Peter Kissablak. Avanesian’s sister arranged for the move and found them the Glendale apartment.
Salpi Sarkissian, who was in a cosmetology class at Glendale High with the two older sisters, said they mostly kept to themselves but always said hello to her in Armenian when she saw them in class.
“They were sisters, and they were so close. They were really nice,” Sarkissian said. “They would really take care of themselves.”