A Chico mother is trying to explain why she left her two young daughters alone overnight. While Rebeca Laughlin-Moralez was gone, her home caught fire, and the 8 and 9-year-old girls had to flee from the flames on their own in the middle of the night.
The fire broke out around 2:30 a.m. in the 100 block of York Drive in Chico. One girl awoke to the smell of smoke. She woke up her sister who was sleeping in a car parked in the driveway.
The girls tried to go back into the burning home to locate their mother whom they thought was still inside, but it was too smoky. They ran down the street to a neighbor’s house and asked them to call 911.
When police and firefighters arrived, the mother of the two girls was nowhere to be found. Firefighters searched the burning home two times, but determined she was not inside.
Laughlin-Moralez was unaccounted for until 9 a.m., when she returned to the home and spoke to firefighters who were still on the scene. Chico Police scheduled an interview for Friday at 5 p.m.
KRCR News Channel 7 went to the home at 9:30 a.m. to ask Laughlin-Moralez the question everyone is asking. Where was she overnight when the fire broke out?
Initially, Laughlin-Moralez became agitated, and reporter Jerry Olenyn she was there.
“I was at home with my children at the time,” said Laughlin-Moralez. “And it's none of your concern, it's none of your business.”
About an hour later, around 10:30 a.m. Laughlin-Moralez changed her story. She admitted she had left the girls after an intruder came through the back door.
“He was walking through the backdoor of my house….I don't know who it was. I didn't have the dining room light on, I couldn't see,” said Laughlin-Moralez.
She claims she fled for safety, leaving her children behind.
“He chased me out the front door.”
Her story left many questions, like why she didn’t report the break-in, or return home until more than six hours after the fire broke out. But she cut off the interview before those questions could be answered.
Chico Fire Marshal Mort Myers said the two little girls demonstrated quick-thinking in a difficult situation. The awoke to find their house on fire, and couldn’t find their mother.
“They're troopers, they had the presence of mind to get out and go to a neighbor's house and have them call 9-1-1 to report the fire,” said Myers.
The two girls were placed in the custody of Child Protective Services.
Police are questioning Laughlin-Moralez.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The fire charred the kitchen and living room and was extinguished by 3:15 a.m.