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WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio | Columbus News, Weather & Sports |

Victims' Legacies Live On

Five years have passed since a fire near the Ohio State campus took the lives of five college students. 10TV checks in with police who still search for the arsonist responsible.
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It's been five years since a fire at an off-campus home claimed the lives of five college students.And while detectives stand firm on the belief that an arsonist started the fire, police said theystill need clues to break the case.
 
On April 13, 2003, a fire ripped through a home on East 17th Avenue. When the blaze wasfinally extinguished hours later, two Ohio State students, Alan Schlessman and Kyle Raulin, weredead, 10TV's Angela An reported.
 
Also killed in the fire were Andrea Dennis, Erin DeMarco and Christine Wilson -- all of whomwere visiting from Ohio University.

 
In the time since the fire, much has changed.
 
The East 17th Avenue home has been renovated and remodeled, and most of the students presentthe night of the fatal fire are graduated and gone.
 
While the fire is all but a memory to most, Columbus Police Det. Rick Bisutti said one thinghad not changed in five years: his search for the arsonist who killed five people.
 
"I can't give you a time frame," Bisutti said. "I wish I could. I wish I could for thefamilies, but I can't give a time frame."
 
Bisutti did share with 10TV News where the fire investigation had gone in five years.
 
He has filled binders and boxes with information on potential leads, names of persons ofinterest and phone records. Despite his aging collection, he appealed to students who might haveinformation on the fire.
 
Bisutti said students who attended Ohio University in 2003 might have information that couldbe of use.
 
"There might be somebody down there that was going to OU at that time that might have someinformation that might help us out," Bisutti said. "They could have been at the party, or theycould have heard something down on campus after this fire occurred."
 
The three victims from Ohio University were in Columbus to celebrate Schlessman's 21stbirthday party. As the party thinned down, detectives believe someone started a fire on the home'sporch.
 
Arson investigators said accelerants and burn patters proved someone intentionally set thefire, An reported.
 
Earlier this week, 10TV News met with families of the victims who shared smiles andstories. They also shared frustration with the fact that whoever started the fire remains atlarge.
 
Dean Dennis, the father of Andrea Dennis, said he was fearful that the arsonist could strikeagain.
 
"It's a cold case and it's feeling real cold," Dennis said. "As long as there is a person outthere that is capable of torching a house with people sleeping in it, it could happen again."
 
Tim Wilson, the father of Christine Wilson, and John Schlessman, the father of AlanSchlessman, also spoke with 10TV News about the case.
 
"I personally believe there is a much lower likelihood that it's going to be solved at thispoint," Wilson said. "I hope I'm wrong, but five years later will quickly turn to seven, eight,nine, 10 years. I think the one thing that could possibly happen is that whoever did it begins totalk about it."
 
There was a time when detectives said someone did talk about the case, An reported.
 
Robert 'Lucky' Patterson was arrested four months after the fire. Authorities claimed that hemade statements implicating himself in the blaze. However, 11 days after his arrest, Patterson wasreleased from custody, An reported.
 
Prosecutors said they released Patterson for lack of evidence.
 
"This dismissal does not clear Robert Patterson," said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien."What it does is release him from custody."
 
Patterson's father spoke out about the allegations surrounding his son, accusing prosecutorsof finding a scapegoat.
 
"They just wanted somebody," said Ron Patterson.  "That's how I look at it. They justwanted to put someone in jail and get the case closed."
 
Robert Patterson, who detectives still consider a person of interest in the fire, is servingtime for unrelated charges of attempted burglary and felonious assault, An reported.
 
John Schlessman told 10TV News that he still believed police would find the person responsiblefor the fire.
 
"I really believe they will, but it's a matter of everyone collaborating for the common goodof the safety of people in Franklin County," Schlessman said.  "Particularly the OSU Students,as opposed to any political ramifications."
 
Columbus Police Cold Case Sgt. Jeff Sacksteder confirmed to 10TV News that his team hadtraveled across several states hunting down clues. Those states included North Carolina,Massachusetts and California.
 
Sacksteder said he believed that it would take a soul with a good conscience to put the caseto rest.
 
Central Ohio Crime Stoppers has offered a reward of up to $12,000 in exchange for informationreceived by April 23 leading to the arrest or indictment of the person responsible for thefire.

Legacies Live On
 
The parents who lost their children in the fire have tried to carry on as best they can.
 
"We get up every morning and we put our game face on and we go through the day," said DeanDennis, father of Andrea Dennis.
 
Alan Schlessman's father, John, shared stories from the same battle.
 
"You move on," Schlessman said, "but it's not something that you're prepared for."
 
In the five years since the fire, each family turned their loss into something that would maketheir children proud.
 
For the family of Christine Wilson, that meant donating money to causes their daughter wasfond of.
 
"We've given away close to $80,000 in five years," said Tim Wilson, Christine Wilson's father."A little more than half has been to (Nationwide Children's Hospital).
 
Tim Wilson said his daughter loved children, as well as the ocean. He said it was only fittingthat they dedicate a room at Nationwide Children's Hospital in her name. It's a room that has wallscovered in water-like murals.
 
The Wilson family hoped the room would help young burn patients cope by seeing somethingbeautiful.
 
"I believe that's one of the best things we've done," Tom Wilson said.
 
While attending Ohio University, Christine Wilson was a member of the same sorority as ErinDemarco and Andrea Dennis – two young women who also lost their lives in the fire.
 
Now, on Ohio University's campus, is a reading garden with three benches, one for each lifelost. Demarco, meanwhile, was named the eternal sweetheart at her boyfriend's fraternity.
 
For victims Alan Schlessman and Kyle Raulin, their athletic legacies live on in theirhometowns.
 
In West Chester, Ohio, Kyle Raulin's uniform number graces the entrance to the soccer stadiumwhere he led his team to a state title.
 
John Schlessman said he wanted to share his son's passion for athletics with others. Since2003, children in Sandusky have been introduced to sports through Al's Clinics.
 
According to the Al's Clinics Web site, the program has the "goal of teaching the youth of thecommunity a new skill while putting a smile on their faces, as Al would have done."
 
"The term I really like is, and I think we believe this, we believe angels breathe,"Schlessman said. "So we believe Alan still has an effect on the young people in Sandusky."
 
"All five children were just phenomenally good young people," Schlessman said.

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