Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Woman dies after family fire attack

Justino Sanchez Diaz is accused of setting fire to family members in Puerto Rico (AP)

A third person has died from a New Year's attack in which police say a Puerto Rican man using kerosene and a propane tank set fire to more than a dozen of his family members and a visiting US woman as they sat down for dinner.

Among the five people still hospitalised are 25-year-old Kate Donahue of Seattle and her fiance, Jesus Sanchez, both with burns over more than 80%of their bodies, hospital spokeswoman Wilmelis Marquez said. The recently engaged Seattle couple had travelled to Puerto Rico so Donahue could meet Sanchez's family.

The mother of the man suspected of carrying out the attack, 45-year-old Justino Sanchez Diaz, died of her injuries on Tuesday, Marquez said. Earlier, a 17-year-old niece and a 32-year-old cousin of Sanchez Diaz died. The suspect is the uncle of Donahue's fiance.

Donahue's family flew to Puerto Rico shortly after they got the news, Austin Martin, a friend of Donahue's who is a pastor in Arizona, said. "They've been able to see her, but she's been put in a medically induced coma, so they haven't been able to speak with her," he said.

Friends of the couple set up a Facebook account and asked for donations to help pay for medical transport back to Seattle. "It is a long road ahead to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually," states the page.

Donahue works as a nurse for Group Health, according to her Facebook page. Sanchez is a Boeing engineer, according to The Seattle Times. Donahue's mother, Michelle Donahue, told reporters both are very much in love.

"Their last words before they were intubated were, 'For each other,'" she said. "She loves him. He loves her. The last six months have been the happiest time of her life."

The blaze occurred on Saturday in the central Puerto Rican mountain town of Florida, where Sanchez Diaz lives in a two-storey house with his parents and a sister, police Lt Reinaldo Jimenez said.

Sanchez Diaz had doused the walls of the house with gasoline and set canisters filled with fuel under the dining room table and other furniture, he said. "He planned the party so that everyone would show up," Jimenez said.

As soon as the 14 people sat down for an early dinner on January 1, Sanchez emerged from his room armed with a 20-pound container of propane gas and then doused them with kerosene, Jimenez said witnesses told police. He then set them on fire using a stick wrapped with a towel soaked in fuel.

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