The first pictures of three children who died in a Manchester house fire which left their sister and mother critically ill have emerged.
Six arrests have been made over the suspected murder of Demi Pearson, 14, who was pronounced dead at the scene in Worsley and her eight-year-old brother Brandon and seven-year-old sister Lacie, both of whom later died in hospital.
The children’s 35-year-old mother, Michelle Pearson, is in a serious condition in hospital and is unaware of their deaths. Meanwhile a fourth sibling, three-year-old Lia, is critically ill.
The father of the children was not in the house at the time of the incident but has been notified of the deaths.
Greater Manchester Police said four men, aged 23, 20, 25 and 18, and a 20-year-old woman have been arrested on suspicion of murder.
A 24-year-old man is also being questioned in custody on suspicion of assisting an offender.
Tributes have been paid to Demi on social media. Kirsty Livingstone posted on Facebook: “Demi Pearson you are one of the funniest An (sic) loving young woman that iv ever got to know. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to watch you grow from a lil girl to a beautiful young woman.
“I can’t believe your gone - your cheeky face An funny attitude will be missed by everyone who had the opportunity to know you. Fly high angel R.I.P Demi.”
Amy Wallace added: “Rest in peace dem, mad how I was only speaking to you the other day, taken way too soon.”
Megan H Newest added: “Wow can’t believe what I’m hearing! Rest in peace Demi Pearson .. so young! X.”
Amber Robinson said : “Rip Demi Pearson, gone far too soon, fly high angel xx.”
Emergency services were called to the mid-terraced house in Jackson Street just before 5am on Monday.
Two 16-year-old boys who were also in the house freed themselves before fire crews arrived and put out the blaze. They have been named locally as sibling Kyle Pearson and his friend Bobby Harris.
Kyle told the Manchester Evening News: “I fell asleep and the next thing I knew was I could hear my mum screaming ‘fire!’. There was lots of smoke so I climbed out of an upstairs window.
“I’ve gone to get back in but a cloud of smoke hit me in the face. I tried to break the front door down and smashed a window, but I couldn’t get in because of the flames and the smoke. I can’t get my head around it.”
Police confirmed there had been “earlier incidents” at the address and said the force had made a self-referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Chief Superintendent Wayne Miller, of Greater Manchester Police, said: “In what is such a heart-breaking set of circumstances, we have been doing our very best to support the family in every way that we can and carry out our inquiries quickly and sensitively.
“We are still appealing for people who witnessed the fire itself or the events leading up to it to get in contact with us and tell us what they know.”
Earlier, Miller urged an unnamed suspect to hand himself in as he told reporters: “He knows who he is and he should give himself up.
“This will devastate this family forever and words cannot describe what they are going through. We need the public’s help to find the answers the family deserve.”
Demi was a pupil at Harrop Fold School in Salford, which featured in the Channel 4 documentary Educating Greater Manchester.
Head teacher Drew Povey said: “We are devastated at the tragic loss of life today in our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family involved.”
A large police presence remained at the scene throughout the day as both ends of Jackson Street were cordoned off, with one end blocked by large steel barriers.
Tearful locals stood at the end of the cordons and consoled each other with embraces.
One woman, who did not wish to be named, said she knew the mother of the family.
She said: “I have known Michelle for years. The family have lived here for a long time. We are all just in shock.
“There has been trouble round here before but it’s more wannabe gangsters, teenage stuff.”
Anyone with any information should contact police on 0161 856 8797, or call 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.