Father in custody dispute dies in fire with 2 children

A bitter child custody battle between a divorced couple may have led to the death of a father and his two children in a garage fire in Warwick, Que.

Child custody arrangement was to be dealt with in family court today

Neighbours have identified the residents of the home as Jocelyn Marcoux and his children, Karen and Lindsay. (Facebook)

A bitter child custody battle between a divorced couple may have led to the death of a father and his two children in Warwick, Que.

Police have not officially confirmed identities, but the remains of three people discovered in the garage of the burning home early Tuesday are likely those of its residents, Quebec provincial police said. "Everything leads us to believe that these were the residents of the house," police spokesman Richard Gagné told reporters.

In Quebec City, a lawyer identified the deceased man as Jocelyn Marcoux. She told CBC News her client had failed to appear in family court for a scheduled appearance Tuesday. He had custody of the children, she said, but the hearing was to modify that arrangement.

Joel Croteau, who drove to the home on his way to work after hearing reports of the fire, told CBC News he worked with Marcoux and described the discovery as "incomprehensible."

He said the two children had been living with Marcoux for about a year and he was involved in a custody dispute with his former partner.

Dozens of photos on Marcoux's Facebook page show two smiling children posing at family birthdays, on holidays and camping trips. The same trailer and pickup truck that appear in the photos were parked in front of the home on Richardson Street on Tuesday morning when emergency crews arrived.

Emergency workers stand in front of the burned structure in Warwick, Que. (Radio-Canada)

Marcoux's last post to the website was logged at 1:14 a.m. Tuesday. It is an image of an email that Marcoux appears to have mailed to himself, dated earlier that evening. In the two-page letter, he describes his version of the custody battle and expresses frustration with the system.

"For all the fathers out there, it's official," the letter, written in French, reads."If you don't get justice yourself, you'll never have it."

Neighbours heard explosion

Firefighters responding to a call for a fire discovered the bodies in a detached garage on Richardson Street at about 3 a.m. Neighbours had reported hearing a noise they described as an explosion.

Neighbours said Marcoux's son, Lindsay, and daughter, Karen, also lived in the home.

Police said they're waiting for autopsies to confirm the identities of the bodies. By early afternoon, the remains had not been removed and police continued to work behind the taped-off scene on the tidy residential street.

Neighbours in the small community, located about two hours northeast of Montreal, said they were shocked to see emergency crews on the quiet street. They said they had never heard of anything like this happening in their town.

Custody battles take too long, expert says

Cases of family dramas and custody battles ending in homicides occur every year. A special committee was formed to look at the phenomenon.

Yves Bolduc, Quebec's health minister, said "the committee will look at causes and solutions, but it is unrealistic to think we can stop these tragedies from happening. But we can definitely reduce the number."

A study conducted by the University de Montreal in 2009 showed that about a dozen children are killed by their parents every year in Quebec, a figure above the national average.

Abe Worenklein, a clinical psychologist, said the best way to oversee possibilities of violence and infanticide is to have a psychologist mandated by both parents look over the case on behalf of the children.

Another psychologist, Pierre Thériault, said "youth protection needs to monitor cases of domestic violence more closely, regardless if the children have been directly targeted or not."

As it stands, Quebec youth protection services only get involved in custody cases if there are reports the children are physically harmed.  

Legal experts have been pointing at the length of time court procedures take for custody battles and believe this can add emotional stress to all parties involved.