Michael Kipley  /  AP
Authorities work Sunday afternoon outside the home where five children died in a house fire, that morning, in Quincy, Ill. Zachary Q. Meeks, 27, has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder in connection with the early morning fire.
updated 4/15/2007 9:32:04 PM ET 2007-04-16T01:32:04

A man was arrested of charges of setting his cousin’s house on fire in western Illinois early Sunday and killing her five children, authorities and a relative said.

Four other people were injured in the blaze, including one who was airlifted to a Springfield hospital in critical condition, said Quincy police Sgt. Doug Schlueter. A relative said the children’s parents, who tried vainly to save them, were among the injured, and that their father was the most seriously hurt.

The bodies of four boys and a girl — ages 5 months to 10 years — were found on the second story, officials said.

Authorities said they arrested Zachary Q. Meeks, 27, after he was questioned about the fire that began around 3 a.m. in this community along the Mississippi River and about 90 miles west of Springfield.

Police released few details about their investigation at a Sunday afternoon news conference and would not cite a motive.

The Adams County coroner identified the children as Kendall Edwards, 10; Althea Clark, 9; Camron Clark, 5; Khalil Clark, 3, and Kejuan Clark, 5 months.

Their parents, Jeanette and Keith Clark, were injured while trying to save them, Michelle Gavin, Jeanette Clark’s sister, told WGEM-TV in Quincy. She said Keith Clark was the victim who needed to be airlifted to the Springfield hospital.

Gavin said Meeks, who is her cousin, had a grudge with the victims’ parents stemming from a drug-related prison sentence. She said Meeks poured gas on the front of her sister’s house and set it on fire.

“I’m devastated,” Gavin said.

Meeks was arrested on five counts of first-degree murder, one count of aggravated arson and one count of arson, police said. A prosecutor said formal charges would be filed Monday.

Rescuers arrived to find flames shooting out the windows of the two-story brick home, authorities and neighbors said.

One firefighter suffered minor burns to the face, and two other people hurt were treated at a hospital and released, officials said.

Police said Meeks was being held in the Adams County Jail. 

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