Inside the Evidence: 8-year-old killed in arson

February 28, 2019 11:21 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- An 8-year-old girl died in a house fire in Rochester 15 years ago. It was ruled as arson, but the person who set that fire has never been caught. 

Savannah Streber would be 23 years old if she was still alive. On February 28, 2004, she was asleep in her bed when a fire broke out in her home on Yates Street. 

WEB EXTRA: Here are stories News10NBC aired in 2004  on the Yates Street house fire

News10NBC has exclusive new details on the case, and pictures from the crime scene never seen before. 

"As far as victims go, it doesn't get much worse than an eight-year-old girl," said Rochester Police Sgt. Dave Joseph. 

The fire started just after midnight. Savannah was inside the home along with two other kids and her babysitter, Shonda Whitaker. 

"She rounds up Savannah first because she's the oldest," said Sgt. Joseph. 

Then Whitaker got the other two kids: her own son Teddy and Savannah's three-year-old sister Alex. 

"As they go outside, the babysitter realizes Savannah isn't with the group."

The home was quickly engulfed in flames. Savannah was found dead in her mother's bed, but her mom wasn't there. She was working that night as a waitress at Alfano's Restaurant in Greece.  

"There is no question in our minds right now that this fire was intentionally set," said RPD Sgt. Tony DeBellis during a press conference back in 2004. 

Today, Sgt. Joseph is working to solve the case. 

"It's obviously a horrific way for an 8-year-old girl to pass away," said Sgt. Joseph. 

He showed News10NBC pictures never seen before from inside the house. Investigators sifted through what was left to determine what started the fire. 

At first, it was believed faulty wiring on a clothes dryer could have been the cause. 

News10NBC spoke with Teddy Whitaker back in 2004, one of the children who survived. 

"My mom was drying clothes. It just started smoking on the wires on the back of it and it just started smoking all over the dryer, and the whole house started getting smoky and fiery," said Teddy Whitaker. 

However, investigators later discovered this fire was no accident. Neighbors told police they heard a boom before the fire started to spread. Sgt. Joseph says a molotov cocktail was thrown into the back of the home, and he believes he knows who did it. 

"There is a person that we have concentrated on since this occurred back in 2004," said Sgt. Joseph. 

Because this is an active investigation, News10NBC is not going into any details about that person of interest. 

"We're just going to continue putting together pieces and eventually we're going to make an arrest in this one," Sgt. Joseph said. 

Investigators believe Savannah's mother may have been the intended target. News10NBC's Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean spoke with her. You can see that story on Thursday on News10NBC at 6 p.m. 

If you have any information on the arson that killed Savannah Streber, call Crime Stoppers at (585) 423-9300. 


Nikki Rudd

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