Man arrested in connection to deadly Ripley Co. house fire released from custody

Man arrested for arson after deadly Ripley Co. fire
(Photo courtesy of Michael Payne)
(Photo courtesy of Michael Payne)

RIPLEY COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - A man who was arrested in connection to a Ripley County fire that killed his wife and baby son has been released from custody.

The Ripley County sheriff reports Michael Payne was being held on first degree arson charges.

The arrest came after his wife and son died of smoke inhalation in a fire on Friday, April 8, according to the Ripley County Coroner Mike Jackson.

Payne's sister says it's heartbreaking to see her brother go through this.

"To imagine the heartache that he is going through. It hurts me to think about how much more he is hurting. I hurt this much and I can't imagine how much he is hurting. I wish I could take it all away," she said.

Autopsies on Eli Michael Payne, 1, and his mother, Valerie Payne, 23, were conducted on Sunday, April 10, in Farmington, Missouri.

Their funerals were held on Wednesday, April 13, at the Simpson Creek Baptist Church.

Payne was being held behind bars for 24 hours while the case is sent to the prosecuting attorney; the hold expired around 3 p.m. on Friday, allowing Payne to be released with no official charges filed.

The Ripley County sheriff said Payne could still face more charges.

Just hours before officers took Payne into custody on Thursday, he talked to us on camera.

"They're not in any pain or suffering," he said. "I know we'll be together again some day. Always tell your loved ones 'I love you.' You never know when you can't tell 'em that."

Authorities reported that at about 4 p.m. on Friday, April 8, the Ripley County Sheriff's Office received a call about a structure fire.

At the scene, deputies contacted Michael Payne, who had obvious injuries and said that his wife, Valerie, and his child, Eli, were still in the home.

Both Valerie and Eli were pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m.

Michael was taken to Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center for treatment and was later released.

Multiple fire departments responded to the scene, led by Current River Fire Department.

The Ripley County Sheriff's Office, Ripley County Coroner's Office and the Missouri State Fire Marshall all assisted in the investigation.

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