Original article no longer available
By DAVID B. CARUSO. The Associated Press
2/27/2004, 2:51 p.m. ET
(AP) – A woman charged with setting a fire that killed her two young children told authorities she has been taking medication for severe depression.
Samantha Hirt, 28, was arrested Thursday night after investigators concluded that she had intentionally ignited a smoky blaze earlier this week in the northeastern Pennsylvania home she shared with her husband, 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
Firefighters found the toddlers’ bodies in a bedroom. A coroner said they died from inhaling smoke.
A Pennsylvania State Police investigator said Hirt first claimed she did not know what caused the fire, then later said she might have accidentally started the blaze by touching a cigarette lighter to an item hanging from a door in the room where the children were playing.
Hirt also told investigators she was being treated for manic depression and has been taking the drug Effexor, a common anti-depressant, police said in court papers.
Hirt’s attorney, Michael Sheldon, said Friday that the young mother had suffered from depression for years, and that her condition had sometimes been very severe. He said it was too early to know whether she was responsible for the fire, or whether her illness played a role.
“These were her children. She is a loving mother. Certainly they were her life,” Sheldon said. He said Hirt, who was ordered held without bail early Friday morning, is confused and distraught.
“She is scared. She is really not totally aware of anything that is going on at this time. She is panicky. She is isolated from her family,” he said.
Firefighters rushed to the family’s home in Polk Township, Monroe County, at 2 p.m. Wednesday after Hirt called 911 and told a dispatcher that the house was on fire and her children were trapped. Police said she sounded frantic.
Hirt’s husband was at work at the time of the fire, police said.
A state police trooper and a doctor who examined Hirt at a hospital following the blaze said she had glassy eyes and appeared unemotional and disconnected from her surroundings.
Monroe County District Attorney David Christine said investigators were trying to learn more about Hirt’s psychological history. He said the county’s youth and family services agency had no prior contact with the family, and investigators had not uncovered any evidence that the children were being abused.
Effexor’s manufacturer, Wyeth, warned doctors in September that some clinical studies had shown that the drug might cause hostility and suicidal ideation if taken by children.
The drug has long been used successfully by adults, however, and authorities say there is no evidence of a suicide risk for them.