NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two children initially believed to have perished in a Tennessee farmhouse fire along with their step-grandparents are now considered missing and perhaps in danger, investigators said on Wednesday.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said the remains of 9-year-old Chloie Leverette and 7-year-old Gage Daniel were not found and the agency issued an endangered child alert for them on Wednesday afternoon. Investigators said neighbors last saw the children Sunday evening, hours before a fire destroyed the home in Bedford County about 40 miles southeast of Nashville.
TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said the district attorney asked the agency to investigate the fatal fire and the whereabouts of the children. She said there is no evidence yet that the children were not in the house, but investigators are speaking with family members, friends and people at the children’s school.
“Under an abundance of caution we decided to issue an endangered child alert for the two children if they are not in fact found in the fire,” Helm said.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office said in a statement that it has concluded “that there are no remains of the two children in the structure. The children’s location at this time is unknown.”
Helm said the TBI issued the endangered alert because, “as time moves on, we don’t want to miss our opportunity to locate them if they were not in the house.”
The Bedford County sheriff said investigators did find the remains of 72-year-old Leon “Bubba” McClaran and his 70-year-old wife, Molli McClaran.
Helm confirmed that the remains of two people and an animal were recovered in the house, but she said the medical examiner would have to positively identify those remains.
Sheriff Randall Boyce originally said Monday that investigators thought they found three bodies in the home, but one of the remains turned out to be those of a dog.
Family members told The Associated Press that the McClarans were raising their step-grandchildren because they needed a home and described them as generous people who loved their family. Relatives of the McClarans said the girl also used the last name Pope.
Someone passing by the farm saw the home enveloped in flames and called for help.
Law enforcement agents used cadaver dogs to search through the rubble for the remaining bodies. Family members drew a layout of the home for authorities to show the bedrooms.
The fire was very intense and quickly collapsed the walls of the house. Firefighters spent hours battling the blaze and it was still smoldering Monday morning as they searched for the bodies.
Helm said TBI is not investigating the cause of the fire because that is the responsibility of the state fire marshal’s office.