Pediatric Homicides Related to Burn Injury: A Retrospective Review at the Medical University of South Carolina


  • Presented as a poster presentation at the AAFS 56th Annual Meeting, February 18, 2004 in Dallas, TX. Resources for production of poster from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Department of Pathology, Forensic Pathology Section, Medical Center Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27157.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Kim A. Collins, M.D.
Director, Autopsy and Forensic Pathology
Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Medical University of South Carolina
165 Ashley Avenue, Suite 309
PO Box 250908
Charleston, SC 29425


ABSTRACT: Many burn injuries are mistakenly referred to as “accidents” because they occur suddenly and seem unpredictable and uncontrollable; however, injuries often occur in predictable patterns. We reviewed all pediatric forensic cases referred to the Medical University of South Carolina Forensic Pathology Section over a 28-year period from January 1975 to December 2002. There were 124 cases with 121 fire-related fatalities and three scald fatalities. Ninety of the burn victims were in the 0–5-year age group. The manner of deaths showed 108 accidents and 12 homicides (four undetermined). Eleven of 12 burn-related homicides occurred at the home with all of the victims in the 1–8-year age group. The perpetrator of the home fire homicides was the mother in five cases and the sister in one case (two undetermined). Homicide involved a vehicle fire in one case in which the father caused an explosion with an accelerant. The three scald death perpetrators were the father, mother's boyfriend, and an aunt.This retrospective study and review of the literature may reveal patterns useful for evaluation of manner of death. By recognizing scene characteristics, potential perpetrators, and children at risk, we can better classify pediatric burn-related fatalities.