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Police probe chat room in fatal Jefferson Township fire

| Thursday, Sept. 4, 2003

BUTLER: Authorities are investigating whether a Jefferson Township homemaker's conversations in an Internet chat room might be connected to the house fire that killed her and her 3-year-old son.

State police have not ruled whether the Labor Day fire was arson, but Trooper Rob Lagoon said Wednesday that the probe includes an examination of Tammey Morrill's Internet use.

"They are looking into some kind of a chat room. I know that's one of the things we're investigating," Lagoon said.

Morrill, 37, and her son, Richard Morrill Jr., known to family members as "R.J.", died Monday morning in the fire at the family's home along Berrywood Lane. Firefighters extinguished the blaze but soon discovered the two bodies inside the home. The Butler County Coroner's office has ruled that the pair died of smoke inhalation.

Two Limerick, Montgomery County, women, who said they frequented a Yahoo! chat room with Morrill, said she told them a man she had befriended in the group had threatened her. The women, Phyllis Rodriguez, 46, and Vicki Calvary, 49, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that they had tried to contact police about Morrill's death.

Lagoon acknowledged that police had received information about Morrill's participation in an Internet chat room. He said police will look into whether a fellow user might have had something to do with her death.

Richard Morrill, 40, said his late wife used the computer frequently, but he said he generally paid little attention to her online habits.

"She was always on that computer arguing with people on there," he said Wednesday outside Fox Funeral Home, Saxonburg, where mourners paid condolences. Services will be at 10 a.m. today at the funeral home.

Morrill, a truck driver, was unaware of anyone who wanted to harm his wife.

Neither he nor daughter Lacy, 17, were at the home at the time of the blaze. He learned of the fire Monday through a cell phone call from his father-in-law as he drove home from West Virginia. Lacy lives in Indiana County, where she is a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Rodriguez said she joined a chat room used by Tammey Morrill two years ago and the two corresponded almost daily. Tammy Morrill had problems with a man she had befriended in the chat room, Rodriguez said. Both Rodriguez and Calvary said Morrill confided that the man threatened her after the friendship soured.

"She was frantic, she was scared," Rodriguez said, recalling a message Tammey Morrill sent last month. "He threatened her, said that he would kill her. She was afraid of him actually doing it."

Calvary, who also uses the chat room, said Tammey Morrill never met the man in person and did not know where he lived.

"She said he had made threats to her" because they were no longer friends, Calvary said.

Richard Morrill said state police had indicated to him the fire was an accident, but he had been kept in the dark about the investigation.

"The state police can't even call me and let me know what's going on," he said.

Lagoon said the state police fire marshal determined the blaze started in the southeast corner of the living room of the two-story house. The couple recently had remodeled the house, installing a new fireplace they never got to use.

"They're trying to determine whether there were any circumstances surrounding the fire that would make it suspicious," Lagoon said.

He added that a criminal investigation is launched anytime a fire results in death.

Reid R. Frazier is a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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