Arson killed mum and baby
A vicious threat by the jealous partner of a terrified young mum haunts her sister after a blaze that left three people dead. Donna-Lee Biddle reports.
Fire was ravaging Susan Bruce’s farm house as she was dragged from her bed.
She saw her sister’s partner Scott Millar lying in the hallway.
Her partner Anthony pulled Millar out through the front door.
He went back in looking for two other family members: Katie Bruce, 20, and her 4-month-old son Ash. But he couldn’t save them.
Firefighters found the bodies of Katie and Ash together in a chair in the lounge.
The cause of the fire has never been revealed by police, but a source close to the investigation says it was arson.
And Scott Millar, 26, is the prime suspect.
Susan Bruce, 28, said she had been certain all along that he did it.
The fire destroyed her home on the Napier-Taupo highway, about 40 kilometres east of Taupo, in the early hours of March 17.
They were left with nothing but old photos of family members.
Bruce believes the blaze started in her lounge.
‘‘When [Millar] got dragged outside, I asked him where Katie and Ash were and he said, ‘leave me, leave me, my son, my son’,’’ she said.
‘‘So I got angry and said, ‘where the f... is my sister? What have you done?’’
A detective told Susan Bruce that twostroke petrol from their lawnmower had been found and could have been used to start the fire. Millar died in hospital later that night. Katie and Millar had been together onand-off for five years. She left him two weeks before she was killed and started to smile again, something Bruce says she hadn’t done for months.
It was allegedly an abusive relationship, with Katie often calling her sister and asking for help. She moved from Millar’s home in Whanganui, to Bruce’s place in Taupo, just after Christmas last year.
The door was always open to her because it was her home as well, Bruce says.
‘‘Fritter’’ was a nickname that Bruce gave Katie because she loved potato fritters when she was younger.
She was the youngest of 11 siblings, who included two step-sisters.
‘‘She was a loving, doting aunty to my
When Boogy [Ash] came along, she lit up. She was smiling again, she would dress nicely, she was happy. Susan Bruce
kids,’’ Bruce said.
‘‘When Boogy [Ash] came along, she lit up. She was smiling again, she would dress nicely, she was happy.’’
Susan Bruce is haunted by Millar’s words.
‘‘He always said if he couldn’t have her, then no-one would and he’d be the first to take her out.
‘‘He told my partner Ants the oil heater started the fire.
‘‘When I talked to the detective, I asked him and he said the oil heater was parked up at the end of the hallway and not involved.’’
The night before the fire, Susan Bruce went to bed around 11pm and left Katie and Scott Millar in the lounge. The pair had argued earlier in the day. ‘‘I said to Katie, ‘I’m gonna go to bed, come and get me if you need me’,’’ Bruce said.
‘‘She said she would be all right but she’d text me if she needed me.
‘‘I said goodbye to her and didn’t think to say ‘I love you’ or anything.
‘‘When I was walking down the hallway she just had this look of absolute fear on her face.’’
Katie would have been 21 on May 23. Not only did she not experience a birthday with her son, she never experienced a Mother’s Day.
‘‘She was a truly amazing mother. I’ve never seen a kid so well-fed. He giggled so much and barely cried,’’ Bruce said. ‘‘She was top notch as mother.’’
A media spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said there was no date set for a coronial hearing into the cause of the three deaths.
Katie Bruce, 20, doted on her baby son Ash, but never lived to see a Mother’s Day. Susan Bruce vividly recalls the ‘‘look of absolute fear’’ on her sister’s face on the night of the tragedy.