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The Syracuse Post-Standard, (NY)
October 4, 1994
Author: MIKE FISH The Post-Standard
A Mattydale woman accused of attempting to kill her daughter by setting her on fire said she wanted to kill herself and her only child in order to escape an unknown threat.
“I was feeling threatened and nervous about something, but I did not know what,” Penni A. Davis, 29, said in a written statement to Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies. “I keep feeling as though someone was going to hurt us and I wanted us to go together – meaning that I wanted to die together.”
Davis, who later told a detective that she was taking “multiple medications for depression,” said that after unsuccessfully trying to start a couch on fire at her 118 Brookline Road apartment, she tried to start her daughter, Samantha, 6, on fire directly.
“I then took some lighted matches and put them on top of Samantha’s hands,” the mother said. “The matches burned her hands and she started screaming.”
After that, the mother said she and her daughter went into the bathroom, and that Davis lit a towel on fire. When breathing became difficult, “I decided that I better leave,” she said.
Davis and her daughter escaped.
When Sue Ranger, a neighbor, answered a knock at her door around 8:45 p.m., “I looked around her (Davis) and flames were shooting out of the top of the house,” Ranger said. “I can’t imagine how they got out of there.”
“When this woman came to the door, she said, `I think I need help,”‘ said Ranger. “There was no urgency, no rushing. If it was me, I know I would have knocked the person down and said, `My God, give me the phone.”‘
After dialing 911, Ranger noticed that the mother sat on her living room couch, while Samantha, who was crying from the pain of the burns on her hands and stomach, sat in a seat separated from the couch by a coffee table.
“You’d think with that much fear and hurt that her mom would be holding her, comforting her – and she wasn’t,” said Ranger.
“The child had no soot on her at all,” Ranger said. “The mother was covered. All you could see was big blue eyes shining through a black face. That was how much soot was on her. It scared the hell out of me when I saw her.”
Samantha was taken to University Hospital, where she was treated for burns to her hands and stomach. She was released to the custody of the county department of social services.
Davis, who suffered burns to her legs and stomach, was arraigned at 8 a.m. Monday at her University Hospital bed on charges of second-degree attempted murder, second-degree arson and endangering the welfare of a child. Salina Town Justice Andrew Piraino ordered her held on $50,000 cash bail pending a mental evaluation.
In her statement, Davis did not elaborate on the source of the perceived threat to her and her daughter.
But while the mother was setting fire to the towel in the closed bathroom, Davis said “she didn’t want the kids to pick on me anymore,” Samantha said in a statement.
Deputy Kim L. Brennan said Samantha told her that on her way home from school last week, “two kids pushed her to the sidewalk and she bumped her head and it became black and blue.”
Samantha said her mother first lit her Cinderella blanket on fire while they both were sitting on it in the living room, Brennan said.
“Samantha said her mother lit the blanket and told her, `close your eyes,”‘ Brennan said. “Samantha said she didn’t want to close her eyes.”
When the blanket fire started to burn her hands and stomach, Samantha ran around and screamed for help from her mother, Brennan said.
“She said she was trying to shake the fire off her hand,” Brennan said. “She said she ran into the bathroom and Mommy came in and started the fire there. Samantha said her mother started her Beauty and the Beast towel, which was hanging on the bar behind the bathroom door, on fire.”
Charlie Schirtz, assistant chief of the Mattydale Fire Department, said the fire in the second-floor apartment destroyed the bathroom and caused some damage in the hallway and rafters.
Shirley Otvos, Penni Davis’ mother, said in an interview Monday that she does not think her daughter was thinking rationally when she talked with deputies.
Record Number: 9410050796