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Man kills self, children, police say

Car set ablaze in Springfield lot

State and local investigators stood near a vehicle that was set on fire and burned in a parking lot yesterday in Springfield. (MICHAEL S. GORDON/THE REPUBLICAN VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SPRINGFIELD -- For reasons that may never be known, Hipolito Ortiz pulled his two young children out of day care yesterday, drove them to the nearby parking lot of the factory where their mother worked, and then doused himself, his children, and the car with a flammable liquid and set all ablaze, police say.

It was not until Springfield firefighters extinguished the flames that they saw all three bodies. The corpses were blackened beyond recognition, a gruesome apparent murder-suicide that left Springfield officials and rescue workers distraught and struggling for answers.

"All the officers involved and the firefighters involved and the crime scene technicians have all got some pictures in their head that nobody would want," said Springfield Police Commisisoner Edward A. Flynn. "It was a bad scene."

Killed in the blaze were Genesis Ortiz, 6, and her 2-year-old brother, Adrian Ortiz. Their mother, Mayra Rivera, 29, was so distraught at the news that she was taken by firefighters to the emergency room at Baystate Medical Center, where she was reported in stable condition.

Ortiz, 37, and Rivera were the parents of both children but had never married, police said. Authorities said yesterday that there were no outstanding restraining orders or complaints against Ortiz.

Springfield police officials said they had no idea what might have driven Ortiz to commit such an unthinkable act. They described it only as a domestic incident.

"I don't think it's useful to try to speculate or try to understand the workings of the mind of someone who would burn to death his two children," said Flynn.

Police officials said they had not yet positively identified the three bodies with DNA tests, but were fairly confident of their identities through circumstantial evidence.

Springfield firefighters responded yesterday morning at 9:27 a.m. to a 911 phone call reporting a car fire in the parking lot of Harvey Industries, a door and window-frame manufacturer where the children's mother works.

The youngsters had been dropped off at the adjacent Kids Place day care at about 7 a.m. Ortiz pulled them out at about 9 a.m., police said.

When firefighters arrived, the 2001 Dodge Stratus was fully engulfed in flames, authorities said. The fire was extinguished in minutes, revealing a grisly sight: three blackened bodies, two of them tiny, obviously children.

"There was not a lot to work with," said Springfield Police Captain Robert Cheetham. "The damage was quite extensive."

He said "some kind of accelerant" was poured all over the car before the fire was lit. Firefighters recovered a container resembling a gas can, fire officials said. Cheetham said police have ruled out mechanical issues as the cause of the fire.

Flynn was asked whether the children were alive when the fire was lit.

"Certainly it would be our hope that they weren't, but we'll have to leave that to the medical examiner," he said.

Carmen Rivera , 28, lives in the same Springfield multifamily house as Ortiz.

"He just moved here a few weeks ago," she said. "I have never seen him with kids."

Harvey Industries, headquartered in Waltham, said in a statement: "We are surprised and saddened by the events that occurred in the parking lot of our Springfield manufacturing facility earlier today."

Richard Rodriguez, a Harvey machinst, said that Rivera was at work yesterday when the tragic events unfolded in the parking lot.

"Everybody's like a big family," he said. "Everybody is crushed right now. . . . She's been here for a while, so it's hard. "

The company offered grief counseling to its employees, as did the Springfield Fire Department.