Two days before finals began Western students gathered at a party at the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity house on Chestnut Street. Eighteen-year-old Katie Autry and her best friend Danica Jackson arrived after midnight. Jackson and her friends say Autry was intoxicated and was taken home by a fraternity member.
Jackson says she remembers calling their room around 2:30 a.m. to make sure Autry had returned safely. She says Autry seemed fine during the conversation. It was approximately 4 a.m. when firefighters responded to a fire at Hugh Poland Hall. The fire was extinguished by the hall's newly installed sprinkler system. Freshman Katie Autry receives severe burns.
As emergency workers brought her out one eyewitness described Katie as a "life-less" doll according to the College Heights Herald. Autry was then transported to the Medical Center in Bowling Green then life-flighted to Vanderbilt listed in critical condition. University officials say the teenager incurred superficial puncture wounds to her face and neck as well as third degree burns.
The Hancock Clarion reports Autry's foster father admitted Katie was hit in the head with something and that the third degree burns extended from her shoulders to her knees. University officials confirmed her room was locked.
The College Heights Herald reports seeing three men being taken away from the scene by police shortly after the fire, reportedly to be questioned. Poland residents were forced to remain out of the building until 9 p.m. Sunday night. Police interviewed as many students as they could.
Meanwhile stories about what happened began to run rampant on Western's campus. In a Wednesday press conference, Western Police spoke for the first time and confirmed the fire was no accident. Police say a collection of agencies worked together interviewing more than one hundred people and an undisclosed number of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity members.
Thursday morning Newscenter 13 learned search warrants were issued in the case, however, there was no word on the property in question or the number of warrants issued. Western Police Chief Bob Deane stated investigators were currently examining evidence.
Back on campus hundreds of students were still talking about the incident as they packed up and headed home. Officials, obviously worried about key information leaving with students, quickly distributed flyers across campus reminding students of a $2,000 reward.
Also on Thursday, May 8, a 4:30 p.m. press conference was pushed back to 7 p.m. after Chief Deane stated he didn't want to pull investigators away from what they were doing. University officials said those investigators were in a number of counties. Thursday evening, the chief remained extremely tight-lipped maintaining he had a theory behind the fire, but wouldn't comment further.
Funeral arrangements for Autry were released Friday, May 9. Plans call for Autry to be buried in Rosine, the home of her birth mother. Arrangements are being handled by William L. Danks funeral home in Beaver Dam, that's where visitation will be held Saturday, May 10 from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m., Sunday, May 11 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Monday, May 12, from 9a.m. until 2 p.m. The funeral will begin Monday at 2 p.m. in Beaver Dam with a burial to follow in Rosine. Meanwhile, a memorial service is planned Sunday, May 11afternoon at 2 p.m. at Pellville Baptist Church in Pellville. Katie and her sister Lisa lived in Pellville with their foster parents, Jim and Shirley Inman, for the last several years.
Katie was a 2002 graduate of Hancock County High School.