NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — A father was arrested for allegedly killing his three children in a house fire in a New Orleans East neighborhood on Wednesday, Oct. 18.

Following an overnight search, Joseph Washington was apprehended on I-610 East at the Elysian Fields Avenue exit around 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday after he reportedly attempted to flee by jumping off the overpass.

Hours earlier, Gretna police notified New Orleans police that Washington’s vehicle was partially submerged in the Mississippi River in Gretna, but he was not inside, according to a spokesperson for the New Orleans Police Department.

The spokesperson says NOPD’s Violent Offender Warrant Squad and U.S. Marshals learned through intelligence Washington was on the interstate in another vehicle.

Washington was taken to a hospital following the reported jump. He will be booked with three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile and one count of aggravated arson.

“We are here because of the tragic, senseless, and horrific death of three young children last night in a domestic violence situation,” NOPD Interim Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick said. “Collectively, we are outraged, we are disappointed, we are deeply saddened, and so as a collective voice, we share the outage of this community.”

According to the New Orleans Fire Department, crews were dispatched around 12 a.m. to the 4900 block of America Street where they learned three children were possibly trapped inside a burning house.

Moments before, the children’s mother called 911, saying her estranged husband and children’s father had intentions of burning the house down. The mother said she was not home but rushing to leave work.

Listen to the 9-1-1 calls below:

Firefighters found a 5-year-old girl and an 7-year-old boy unresponsive a few feet from the door. They tried to resuscitate them before they were taken to a hospital by EMS.

Both died from their injuries.

Officials say a 3-year-old boy was found deceased near the center of the home.

The fire was brought under control around 12:40 a.m.

“There were three children, three juveniles still in the home,” says New Orleans Fire Chief Edwin Holmes before walking away in tears. “The first child was found not too far from the front door, inside of the front room. The second is not too far away. During the process of overhaul is when the third child, a toddler, was found.”

Surveillance video obtained from a neighbor’s home shows the flames growing from the rear of the home and a person exiting the house before getting into a vehicle and driving away.

“When the fire department got here, we kept telling them, ‘You got to get the babies out,'” said a neighbor.

Neighbors say this is a tragedy they will never forget.

“They were able to pull the oldest one out pretty quickly and the second one, but they were never able to get the third one out. I’m a mother, and as a mother, I cannot imagine losing my children like this,” says the neighbor.

The kids’ grandfather, Troy Mc’Donnell, also was at the scene. He says this isn’t the first time he’s lost a grandchild and that a part of him is gone forever.

“I have twenty-five grandkids, and now four of them are gone. Now four of them are gone. I got to go,” said McDonnell.

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