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3 found in house fire were shot, police say

by Shea Stewart | February 22, 2015 at 3:30 a.m.
Firefighters responding to a blaze at this house at 151 Auriel Circle in Maumelle late Friday made a grisly discovery.

Maumelle police are investigating the shooting deaths of three people found by firefighters Friday night, including a professor from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, as an apparent arson and murder-suicide.


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Photo by Benjamin Krain
Firefighters confined flames at this house on Auriel Circle in Maumelle to the back of the building late Friday. The fire reignited early Saturday.

The professor has been identified by police as James Wilbanks, 41. The other two victims are his wife, Tatiana Wilbanks, 27, and his sister Elizabeth Wilbanks, 31. All three were residents of 151 Auriel Circle.

At 9:55 p.m. Friday, Maumelle firefighters responded to a house fire at that address, police Capt. Jim Hansard said in a news release. After entering the residence through the front door, firefighters found an unconscious woman on the floor and removed her from the house.

A Maumelle police officer then moved her to the front yard and determined that she was dead and had an apparent gunshot wound in her forehead.

Firefighters then discovered the body of another woman, also with a gunshot wound, in a bedroom of the house, and a dead man with an apparent gunshot wound in the head in the living room, Hansard said.

Two dead dogs also were found in the home. Both had been shot, he said.

Hansard said Saturday afternoon that investigators had a "very good idea" of who shot whom, but the findings were not conclusive. He said he expected more information to be available today or Monday.

James Wilbanks was an assistant professor of management at UALR. He received his bachelor's degree from Harding University, a Master of Business Administration from UALR and a doctorate from the University of Missouri, according to the UALR website.

"We do not know the facts and circumstances of this tragic incident, and we are very saddened and shocked," Jane Wayland, dean of the UALR College of Business, said in an emailed statement. "We do know that Dr. Wilbanks was an accomplished researcher and professor of management. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their family and friends."

Kevin Hall, who has lived across the street from the Wilbankses for almost five years, said he and his wife were alerted to the Friday night fire by their next-door neighbor.

"It was around 10 o'clock when our neighbor knocked on our door, and when we came out, the back part of the house was on fire," Hall said of 151 Auriel Circle. "There were several firetrucks here at that time. It didn't take them long to put it out. Once they got the fire under control, that's when firefighters started going in the front door. They were all on the back part of the house. There was already a person, I guess, lying in the yard. Once they started going in the front, they opened the door, and I could see a person lying in the foyer in the front."

Most of the fire damage Friday night was contained to the back of the house, Hall said, but the blaze reignited Saturday morning, gutting the building.

"About 6 o'clock this morning, we were sleeping and our alarm went off in our house, and it woke us up," he said. "I came out to check to see what was going on or if somebody was trying to get into our house, and from the living room I could see that the house was fully engulfed in flames."

An investigation is ongoing, Hansard said, adding that initial findings point to an apparent arson and murder-suicide. He said police are not investigating the reignition of the flames.

Metro on 02/22/2015

Print Headline: 3 found in house fire were shot, police say


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