Father charged in Michigan fire that killed wife, 3 children

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The father of three children killed in a Michigan house fire that also killed their mother earlier this year was arrested Thursday and charged in connection with the blaze.

Robert Scales, 38, is charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Xavier Woldeab, 15; Elijah Scales, 10, and Robert Scales, Jr., 14, and their mother, Wanedia Scales, 35.

Robert Scales, Sr., said he was at work at the time of the fire, which happened in early February

Suspicion swirled around Robert Scales given his tumultuous history with his wife. 

According to a request for a personal protection order filed by Wanedia Scales in 2019, Robert Scales had threatened to kill her by burning down the home with her and the children inside.

At a vigil for the victims, Scales was asked if he had anything to do with starting the fire.

“No comment,” he’d said as he ended the interview.

Scales said at the vigil that he was devastated by the loss of his family but said he knew other plans were in place from a higher power.

“I know God got something else for me,” he said.

Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker said the four counts of involuntary manslaughter carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. He said the evidence was insufficient for a murder charge.

“We’re charging him with gross negligence,” Becker said. “We did not charge a homicide because there was no evidence that this was an intentional act. We’re fully aware of the past history.”

Becker said he could not discuss how the fire started or what evidence prompted the charges.

Firefighters also have not publicly released information about what started the fire, but early in the investigation, sources with knowledge of the matter said the fire started in a trash can behind the home.

Family members of the victims said the arrest is welcoming news, but they are not satisfied with the charges.

“It was just tears of joy for me,” said Laverne, an aunt. She asked to be identified only by her first name.

Laverne said she had kept in contact with police about the case. She said investigators contacted her Thursday morning to inform her of the charges and notify her that Scales had turned himself in at the county jail.

“I just wasn’t going to rest until I heard something. Me knowing that they got him on some charges is good, but it’s not good enough,” she said. “It’s not involuntary. It’s murder. What he threatened to do to her — it played out.”

Scales is likely to make a first court appearance on the charges Thursday or Friday.

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