An intervention on a family of hoarders in Greenwich, Conn., turned tragic when a fire ripped through their cluttered house, authorities say, badly burning the woman who owned the home and killing her 42-year-old son.
It's believed the fire was intentionally set Tuesday, possibly by the son, Dean Verboven, because he was upset about the intervention, Greenwich Police Lt. Craig Gray told WCBS-TV in New York. Firefighters' efforts to enter the premises were reportedly hampered by the piles of possessions inside.
There had been a dumpster placed outside the home of his 69-year-old mother, Barbara Verboven, where stacks upon stacks of personal belongings inside were to be discarded. State social workers were due to visit the family that day.
"Smoke [was] pouring out of the house, and we said there's someone still inside," neighbor Richard Meehan told WCBS. "And about five or six minutes later, they took the second person out in an ambulance."
According to another local TV station, WTNH, the mother and son had lived in the house for at least 35 years and Barbara Verboven's husband was a police officer who died in the 1980s.
"The lady used to work for the Board of Education in Greenwich, and then she got sick and, basically, her son was taking care of her," neighbor John Pardo told WCBS. "It was a slow decline."
Another neighbor said the woman was holed up in a single room of the house with the TV on around the clock.
Greenwich Patch reported that the home was known as an eyesore in the neighborhood, and for years neighbors were concerned that it was a deathtrap.
"About two or three months ago, a dumpster was delivered, and we thought they were going to clean it up," Meehan told Greenwich Patch. But it was apparently used for household garbage rather than clearing out the home, Meehan said.
"It's been a bit of a contentious issue with the neighbors," the neighbor added. "You couldn't walk in the house ... it was like a hoarder-type situation."
"I know this boy [Dean] since he was 8 years old," neighbor Gladys Pardo told WCBS. "They are sweet people, nice people."
Barbara Verboven was in critical condition at Bridgeport Medical Center, and she was being treated for severe burns.
The Greenwich tragedy is reminiscent of another case in Chicago where a hoarding couple was trapped under debris in their home for two weeks.