Eric Lawson told police he was upset with his ex-girlfriend.
They were questioning him in the deaths of the woman, her mother and his own 10-month-old child — three lives snuffed out Saturday night with a mix of bullets and fire.
By Sunday afternoon, Lawson was charged with three counts of murder and nine other charges, including arson.
Lawson, 23, told police he brought a semiautomatic 9 mm gun to the upstairs apartment of his ex-girlfriend, Breiana Ray, 22, in the 2100 block of South Jefferson Avenue. There, he shot Ray and her mother, Gwendolyn Ray, 50, in the head, according to police.
Then he set two fires in the apartment unit and locked the door on his way out, leaving trapped inside his 10-month-old son, Aiden, and another child of Ray's, a 3-year-old girl, police said.
Aiden Lawson, who was found by firefighters in his mother's arms, was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead from apparent smoke inhalation. The 3-year-old girl was listed in critical condition; police had not released her name.
On Sunday afternoon, the girl's father, Brandon Howard, showed up at the apartment after hearing about the fire. When friends told him what had happened, he broke down and rushed to the hospital.
A smoke-saturated stuffed animal hung on the front door of the fire-battered three-unit brick building. And a mostly empty package of Hawaiian leis — a remnant of happier times — sat abandoned on the doormat, which was littered with shattered glass.
Debra Darrough was in tears after stopping by the apartment on Sunday with her daughter, Patricia Shipp. Gwendolyn Ray had been friends with Darrough for two decades and was Shipp's godmother.
"She just celebrated her 50th birthday" the day before, Darrough said. "She will be missed."
Ray was supposed to come over to Darrough's house on Saturday night but never showed up.
"When I called her, she didn't answer," Darrough said. "So I called Breiana, but she didn't answer either."
Shipp said Breiana had dated Lawson on and off since high school. She said they were no longer together but continued to be in touch mostly to discuss child care. She didn't know if they had been at odds recently.
"Miss Ray wouldn't let them fight in the house," she said.
The charges against Lawson didn't elaborate on his statement to police about why he was upset with Ray.
On Saturday night, after firefighters entered the house a little after 10 p.m., they found Breiana in the kitchen and Gwendolyn on the stairs leading to the third floor.
Lawson admitted to police that he shot the Rays, according to the charges against him. He also told police he used a lighter to set the fires — one on a bed and another on a recliner in the living room, where the children had been playing before the shooting.
Randy Carter, 25, who lived in one of the first-floor apartments, was at work during the fire. When he arrived home about 11 p.m. Saturday, the street was blocked off, he said.
He knew his upstairs neighbor as "Miss Ray." She and her daughter were friendly and often had family and friends stopping in to visit, he said.
On Sunday, Carter sat outside on a nearby stoop making calls on his cellphone and trying to get an answer about whether the building would be condemned.
Orlando Hidalgo, owner of Fritanga, a Nicaraguan restaurant across the street, called 9-1-1 when he saw the smoke and flames coming out of the building. The restaurant was busy since it was a Saturday night.
He said he had seen Breiana Ray around the neighborhood since he first opened the restaurant about five years ago.
"She was a nice girl," he said.
But she seemed to be upset at times, he added.