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GBI identifies dead woman found after fire

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Using DNA findings, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has identified a dead, burned woman as a missing, 40-year-old mother of five.

Alfreda Watson, a Riverdale woman who was pursuing a career in medical billing, went missing on Feb. 1. She was last seen at 7451 Mockingbird Trail, a house that went up in flames the next day. A burnt body was found there, in the rubble, five days later, as an insurance investigator searched through debris for the cause of the fire.

The woman's family was almost certain the dead woman was their loved one, but couldn't be 100 percent sure until the GBI test results were returned last week.

John Bankhead, GBI spokesman, said the identification was made by comparing the deceased's DNA with the DNA of Watson's mother, Annie Maud, and father, Albert.

The body was released to McDowell's Funeral Home of Griffin, which is run by Watson's relatives.

The family is still waiting, however, to hear how the woman died, and the cause of the fire. The investigation is ongoing, said Capt. Landry Merkison of the Clayton County Fire Department.

"We're still plugging away at it, but right now, we're waiting for all the other reports, the toxins report and the cause of death. We're waiting for everything to filter in," Merkison said.

The house was vacant at the time of the fire. The residents had left the day before and the owner told firefighters all the utilities had been shut off and checked the day before. Firefighters did not know anyone was in the house when they responded, and couldn't safely enter it to check.

It is not clear why Watson went to the house that night.

The family has criticized the fire department for not finding the body.

Fire Chief Alex Cohilas has said the department's investigators won't know what caused Watson to die until they get all the GBI reports and determine the cause of the fire.

"These are important steps which must be undertaken in order to help bring closure to a grieving family," the chief wrote in an e-mail exchange with a family representative.

The findings of the DNA test moved the family one significant step toward closure last week, allowing them to prepare for a funeral and public remembrance.

Speaking for the family, Kim McDowell said Watson should be remembered as a good person, a generous person and a mother. She had five children: Fredario Walker, 18, Octavious Walker, 17, Christopher Watson, 10, Alexus Watson, 9, and Alyiah Watson, 9.

If she hadn't died, the family would have celebrated her 41st birthday last month.