It didn't matter who died...
The house stood on the corner of the street, engulfed in flames. ‘Hurry!’ the caller pleaded when he phoned the emergency services. Breathing heavily, frantic, he couldn’t say for certain if anyone was inside. He said his name was Dominique Deets.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, in Kansas, Steven Vonachen was on the pavement. He’d managed to escape the blaze, but believed his family were trapped inside. His wife Karla Jo, 47, and daughter Audrey, 11, were discovered huddled together on the second floor of the home. Karla Jo was partially over Audrey, a protective arm around her daughter’s chest. They were rushed to hospital. But no-one could find Steven’s son Samuel, 14.
It was almost two hours before Samuel was located, unharmed, nearby. When the teenager was checked over, a medic noted his blood pressure was high and his heart was racing. Officers took him to hospital with his father, where Samuel handed his clothes over for further examination.
While the fire was investigated, Steven and Samuel Vonachen showed little emotion. Maybe they were still in shock…
Tragically, Karla Jo and Audrey died from acute smoke inhalation and burns. Steven initially thought an extension cord may have caused the fire, but the police had a very different suspicion.
Samuel’s clothes had smelled of petrol, and tests later revealed accelerants on them.
When questioned by police, Steven stayed by his son’s side. Samuel told officers on that fateful night, in September 2013, he’d been up watching TV around midnight when he’d heard the smoke alarm. He said he’d walked downstairs and saw a bright light and smoke coming from the living room. Samuel claimed he’d panicked and had run out of the house.
When asked why he didn’t alert his parents to the fire, why he’d fled with a few precious items, and why he’d given a false name when reporting the blaze, Samuel said that he’d been scared. He also mentioned seeing a guy running from the property and said he’d probably started the fire.
But Samuel later chillingly confessed to police, ‘I did it.’‘I want people to die. People are awful,’ he told them. ‘Everyone is awful, but I’m not. I wasn’t trying to kill anyone. It didn’t matter who lived or died… I don’t have any disorders or anything like that. I’m fine. Life is fine. People are just bad. I don’t hate anybody.’
When police asked Samuel about his family, he said, ‘They are loving and caring. I got along with my sister. But I don’t care about love.’ So the teenager had killed his mother and little sister…
Little is known about Samuel Vonachen’s upbringing, but by all accounts, he was an unassuming, loving boy. ‘They were a really quiet family, but you would see
them outside together. They would ride bikes together. They’d plant flowers together,’ a neighbour recalled.
Samuel had been due to start high school and was looking forward to it. He’d recently been to a church summer camp, where he’d encouraged younger kids and organised group activities. Friends said he was always looking for a laugh, though others described him as quiet. The teenager supposedly loved his family, and they adored him, too. Family members said the Vonachens had got along wonderfully. Samuel’s aunt Kathleen said that the Vonachen men weren’t very emotional. She said her father, brother and nephew Samuel were all reserved.
But it seemed Samuel had a dark, sinister side. During police interviews, Samuel admitted he’d had a book in his room with plans to hurt people. One was to bring a sword into school and wreak havoc. Instead, it was his family he harmed…
In August this year, Samuel Vonachen stood trial at Reno County Court. The defence lawyer said Samuel had mental issues and that chilling sketches showed how disturbed he was.
‘There are drawings,’ his lawyer said. ‘Along with drawings of figures, humanoid figures with…two heads. You will see in that same book of drawings the letters I, M, I, N, S, A, N, E.’
He also spoke of the blue blanket Samuel had gripped for much of the aftermath of the fire. He’d removed that – and his guitar – from the house when he ran out.
But the prosecution focused on images Samuel had downloaded before the fire, including a My Little Pony with the word ‘murder’ across it. They said he’d been planning the blaze for days, weeks, or months.
‘He put all his prized possessions on the front porch because he didn’t want them to get damaged. He went to the garage of the family home…out of the garage he retrieved a can of gasoline.’
Samuel poured a U-shape in front of the family staircase at least twice. ‘In an effort to be thorough,’ he’d told police. Then he set the fuel alight and left his mother and sister to die.
Samuel Vonachen, 17, was convicted of first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated arson.
The teenager is awaiting sentencing after a mental- health evaluation. For his father, life will never be the same again.