Detectives investigating the murder of seven-year-old Joel Urhie in a suspected arson attack on his family home believe he may have been the innocent victim of a gang war.
Officers are looking at the possibility that members of a gang were targeting Joel’s 21-year-old older brother, who is said to be known to police.
Joel was found dead after the blaze at the semi-detached house in Deptford in the early hours yesterday.
His mother, Sophie Urhie, a nurse, and 19-year-old sister escaped by jumping 15 feet to the ground from a first-floor window. They were recovering from their injuries in hospital today.
Detective Superintendent Jane Corrigan, who is overseeing the murder inquiry, said that police had not identified any suspects, but it was “difficult to imagine” a seven-year-old was the target for the attack.
Joel’s family issued a photo yesterday of Joel wearing a firefighter costume for a birthday party. They said the “sweet and intelligent” child who played football and loved cars had dreamed of becoming a firefighter.
Ms Urhie was a congregation leader at the New Wine Church in Woolwich, which said in a statement: “Young Joel was a wonderful, loving member of our church family and we will deeply miss him.”
A neighbour, Mcklushia Myles, 36, a carpenter, said Ms Urhie’s other son Sam had got into trouble “once or twice” in the past over knife crime.
Another friend told The Sun: “This might be because of something Sam did. He was involved with the wrong people. He used to live there before he went to prison and was there for a bit afterwards when he came out.
“He was apparently involved with gangs and stuff and it might be the case the people who did it were after him.”
Sam was not staying at the house at the time and was driven to hospital later to see his mother and sister.
Neighbour and close family friend Grace Gbenedio, 56, who went with him to hospital, said: “While we were in the car he was just shouting, ‘Why him?’
“Then when we were at the hospital he said, ‘Oh, why not me? It should have been me. Why not me to die?’”
Joel’s father John Urhie, 54, who did not live at the address, said: “He was a very lovely boy who was just loving life and it’s a terrible loss.
“He played with everyone around here. He was a very nice looking boy. It’s terrible, the pain we can never forget.”
Detectives are appealing for information in connection with the attack and say they are working with fire brigade experts to establish exactly how it started.
Det Supt Corrigan said: “We believe that the fire was started deliberately but at this stage I am unable to go into any further detail due to operational reasons.
We have no idea what the motive for this attack was. We’ve got no suspects at this time.”
Six fire engines and around 35 firefighters tackled the blaze in Adolphus Street after they were called at 3.25am on Tuesday. Nearby properties were evacuated as a precaution and crews brought the fire under control just before 4.50am.
Anyone with information should call the incident room on 0208 345 3715 or ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.