Hamilton Township

Man Accused of Murder, Arson in NJ Fire That Killed Baby Daughter, 2 Others

Malani Sanders, just 9 months old, and her grandparents, Tiffany Abrams-Jones and Prince Jones, died from injuries sustained in the early morning July 9, 2021, fire in Hamilton Township, Mercer County

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The father of a 9-month-old girl is accused of killing her and her grandparents in a fire that tore through their New Jersey home last week.

On Monday, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office announced three counts of first-degree murder and numerous assault, arson and related counts against Michael Sanders. Prosecutors say the Trenton man sent a warning text to the child's mother before the fire began.

Sanders is accused of setting the early July 9, 2021 morning fire that quickly burned through a duplex on Woodlawn Avenue in Hamilton Township that left his baby daughter, Malani Sanders; her 42-year-old grandmother, Tiffany Abrams-Jones; and her 50-year-old grandfather, Prince Jones, dead. Jones died Sunday at the hospital. Two others were injured with burns.

A family member told NBC10 that Abrams-Jones died while trying to save her grandkids from the flames.

The fire started around 3:40 a.m. Friday and "quickly engulfed both sides of the two and a half story, wood frame duplex, causing a partial roof collapse," the prosecutor's office said Monday.

Firefighters said last week that multiple people became trapped, with rain making the rescue effort more difficult.

Investigators looked at numerous surveillance videos and spoke to witnesses as they searched for the suspect.

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They said that video shows Sanders being dropped off by taxi about a block from the home around 3 a.m. Sanders -- "wearing a dark colored hooded sweatshirt with the hood over his head, a mask, and white gloves" -- then walked by the home about 15 minutes before the fire, prosecutors said.

Then, about 10 minutes before the fire, Sanders could be seen on surveillance video at a nearby gas station buying a torch lighter and cigars, investigators said. During the purchase, Sanders removed his mask.

Moments later, Sanders could be seen on video walking toward the Woodlawn Avenue home. About four minutes after he passed the home, the reflection of flames could be seen by that same surveillance camera, investigators said.

Investigators tracked Sanders to his residence where he could be seen on video after the fire no longer wearing gloves, a mask or a hoodie. Investigators said they later found a dark hoodie, similar to the one Sanders was wearing, down a basement stairwell a few doors down form his home.

Earlier in the night, Sanders sent the child's mother -- who also lived in the home -- a text telling her to get little Malani out of the house, investigators said.

Investigators caught up to Sanders in a Plainsboro, New Jersey, hotel early Monday, authorities said. He remained in custody and it was unclear if he had an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

The investigation into the blaze continued. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Jennifer Eyster or email: mchtftips@mercercounty.org.

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