Police tape surrounds the charred remains of a mobile home Monday at 329 Richards Road near Surgoinsville. Hawkins investigators believe they have identified a body found in the mobile home after Saturday’s fire. Photo by Rain Smith.
SURGOINSVILLE — The remains of a person found in a burned mobile home Saturday near Surgoinsville hadn’t been officially identified Monday, but authorities have all but conceded that it is Jonathan Paul Gilliam, a registered sex offender who hasn’t been seen or heard from since the fire occurred.
Around 1 a.m. Saturday, firefighters were called to a burning mobile home at 329 Richards Road.
Upon their arrival, firefighters were told by family members of the owner that the residence was unoccupied. But investigators learned later Saturday afternoon that Gilliam, 24, of Rogersville, and Rickie Campbell, 21, 466 Richards Road, Surgoinsville, had apparently been there when the fire started.
Upon being interviewed Campbell reportedly told investigators that Gilliam jumped out of the burning residence with him and that he last saw Gilliam running away from the burning residence.
That statement is what has Hawkins County investigators most curious.
“If this (body) is who we think it is, that story doesn’t really hold water,” Hawkins County Sheriff Roger Christian said Monday. “It’s something we’re going to dig deeper into. Right now this is considered a death investigation, but it’s early, and I’m not ruling anything out at this point.”
The mobile home was owned by Campbell’s grandfather, and firefighters were initially told by family members that there hadn’t been anyone inside the residence.
The fire was reported to Hawkins County Central Dispatch as an explosion, and family members initially told authorities they believed a kerosene heater in the mobile home had blown up and caught the residence on fire. Investigators later determined that there hadn’t been an explosion.
The roof had already collapsed by the time firefighters arrived, and they were asked to let it burn to help clear the debris.
Deputy Mike Allen stated in his report that later Saturday afternoon Campbell’s mother called and said she had not told the truth — that Campbell and Gilliam had been in the mobile home when it caught fire.
“She said that her son came home with burns on one of his ears and one of his hands,” Allen stated in his report. “She told Central (Dispatch) that he and Jonathan had both exited the trailer, but no one had seen Jonathan since.”
Gilliam’s family members contacted authorities Saturday afternoon as well, reporting that he hadn’t been home or called.
A search of the fire debris Saturday evening revealed the burned remains of one person. The remains have been transported to the University of Tennessee to be identified.
Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell, who responded to the fire as a member of the Striggersville Volunteer Fire Department, said the fire was “extremely hot” and the odds are not good that any evidence survived that could point to a cause of the fire.
The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and State Fire Marshal’s Office.