COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A mother and grandmother have died following an Austell house fire that was intentionally set, according to the Cobb County Police Department.
It happened on March 12 around 5:34 a.m. Police and fire crews were dispatched to Janet Lane regarding a house fire. When Cobb firefighters entered the home, they found 74-year-old Michele LaCroix and 52-year-old Andrea Nall. The two were taken to a local hospital, where they died.
Police said there were also several animals in the fire and officials found most of them dead. The Cobb County Animal Control unit took the rest into their care.
An arrest in the case was made; police said 30-year-old Robert Colt Smith, of Mableton, was taken to the Cobb County Adult Detention Center, where he's being held without bond. He faces charges including murder and arson, police said.
Cobb County Police believe Smith targeted the family and are still investigating.
Andrea's daughter, Elizabeth Nall, said their family is devastated.
"This is the hardest thing we’ll ever have to go through in life," she said.
Their family was not ready to speak about Smith or why police believe he targeted the home.
Court records show Smith had been arrested earlier – at least three times for violently assaulting a member of the family, most recently in February, less than a month prior to when, according to police, he returned to the house to set it on fire.
Neighbor Beth Mimbs, whose son owns the house that the family had rented for a decade, said the fire burned so big and so hot, she and her husband could not get close to try to rescue Andrea and Michele.
"They were always together. It’s heartbreaking," Mimbs said.
Friends of the family are raising money for them online to try to help them start over. Friends are also planning a memorial service, which will take place on Sunday at 1:00 p.m., at American Legion Post 160, 160 Legion Drive, Smyrna.
"Our mother, Andrea Nall, was a pillar of her community here in South Cobb. She was called not only mom by us but many, many other people," Andrea's son, Tyler Nall said. "She was an amazing woman, her and my grandmother both had an open arm and an open door for anybody who ever needed it. Their love and compassion knew no bounds, sometimes to a fault."