Victims' Legacies Live On

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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 they still need clues to break the case.
 
On April 13, 2003, a fire ripped through a home on East 17th Avenue. When the blaze was finally extinguished hours later, two Ohio State students, Alan Schlessman and Kyle Raulin, were dead, 10TV's Angela An reported.
 
Also killed in the fire were Andrea Dennis, Erin DeMarco and Christine Wilson -- all of whom were 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 present the 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 thing had 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 the families, 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 of interest and phone records. Despite his aging collection, he appealed to students who might have information on the fire.
 
Bisutti said students who attended Ohio University in 2003 might have information that could be of use.
 
"There might be somebody down there that was going to OU at that time that might have some information that might help us out," Bisutti said. "They could have been at the party, or they could have heard something down on campus after this fire occurred."
 
The three victims from Ohio University were in Columbus to celebrate Schlessman's 21st birthday party. As the party thinned down, detectives believe someone started a fire on the home's porch.
 
Arson investigators said accelerants and burn patters proved someone intentionally set the fire, An reported.
 
Earlier this week, 10TV News met with families of the victims who shared smiles and stories. They also shared frustration with the fact that whoever started the fire remains at large.
 
Dean Dennis, the father of Andrea Dennis, said he was fearful that the arsonist could strike again.
 
"It's a cold case and it's feeling real cold," Dennis said. "As long as there is a person out there 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 Alan Schlessman, 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 this point," 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 to talk 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 he made statements implicating himself in the blaze. However, 11 days after his arrest, Patterson was released 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 prosecutors of finding a scapegoat.
 
"They just wanted somebody," said Ron Patterson.  "That's how I look at it. They just wanted to put someone in jail and get the case closed."
 
Robert Patterson, who detectives still consider a person of interest in the fire, is serving time 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 responsible for the fire.
 
"I really believe they will, but it's a matter of everyone collaborating for the common good of 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 had traveled 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 case to rest.
 
Central Ohio Crime Stoppers has offered a reward of up to $12,000 in exchange for information received by April 23 leading to the arrest or indictment of the person responsible for the fire.

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 Dean Dennis, 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 make their children proud.
 
For the family of Christine Wilson, that meant donating money to causes their daughter was fond 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 fitting that they dedicate a room at Nationwide Children's Hospital in her name. It's a room that has walls covered in water-like murals.
 
The Wilson family hoped the room would help young burn patients cope by seeing something beautiful.
 
"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 Erin Demarco 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 life lost. 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 their hometowns.
 
In West Chester, Ohio, Kyle Raulin's uniform number graces the entrance to the soccer stadium where he led his team to a state title.
 
John Schlessman said he wanted to share his son's passion for athletics with others. Since 2003, 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 the community 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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