Mother and 3 Children Die in House Fire

Times Staff Writers

A despondent Navy wife, who had threatened suicide as recently as last week, and her three children died early Monday when an arson fire sent thick smoke billowing throughout their Paradise Hills home, police said.

Homicide investigators say they believe the fatal blaze--the worst residential fire here in at least 10 years--was a suicide-murder because a courtyard gate and the front door were locked from the inside and there were no signs of forced entry into the home.

A Navy official said Monday that a chaplain contacted county authorities several days ago to report that the children might be in an “urgent situation.” The Navy spokesman said the county’s Department of Social Services promised to take immediate action, but a county official said nothing was done because the county had no reason to believe there was an emergency.

Killed in the blaze was 36-year-old Esperanza Cabalbag and her three children--Jamie, 10; Tamara, 8, and Filomeno Jr., 5, Navy officials said.

Cabalbag’s husband, Filomeno, has been deployed aboard the guided missile destroyer Henry B. Wilson since Dec. 1 and was at sea at the time of the fire, said Cmdr. David Dillon, a Navy spokesman.


Both Navy and police officials said Monday that Esperanza Cabalbag had been despondent since early March and sent a letter last week to her husband, threatening suicide. Contacted by Navy officials, police visited the Cabalbag home last week, confiscated a rifle from the wife and advised her to seek counseling for her depression, said Lt. Phil Jarvis, head of the San Diego police homicide division.

A Navy chaplain working with the family was sufficiently concerned that he contacted the county’s Children’s Services Abuse Hotline on Thursday morning, said Dillon.

“He communicated the situation, that there was some urgency,” Dillon said of the chaplain, whom he declined to identify. “They (Children’s Services) knew the police had been there and they said they would take . . . action.”

Children’s Services, however, never opened a file on the case because the agency believed there was no immediate threat to the children’s safety, said spokeswoman Yolanda Thomas.