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Kathleen teen shot younger sister before setting house on fire, investigator says

KATHLEEN -- Seventeen-year-old Carmen Collins shot her 12-year-old sister, India Collins, multiple times before using gasoline to set a fire inside their Kathleen home, a sheriff’s investigator says.

Houston County sheriff’s Lt. Jon Holland said Friday that an autopsy conducted by a GBI medical examiner in Atlanta ruled the cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death as a homicide. The body has been released to the family, he said.

The two girls were alone at their Addington Drive home between 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday when Carmen Collins used her parents’ .40-caliber handgun to shoot her younger sister in the foyer/living room area, Holland said.

Gasoline was taken from a storage shed, where it was kept to power the lawn mower, and used to start a fire, he said. The gun had been stored safely, he said.

Carmen Collins fled in the family’s 2011 Acura TL, taking with her the gun and a white poodle named Cooper, the family’s dog, Holland said.

She was arrested at about 2 a.m. Thursday during a traffic stop in Columbus. The stop was made in response to a police bulletin for the vehicle and Collins, Holland said. The dog has been returned to the girls’ parents, he said.

Columbus police recovered the gun inside a trash can outside a barbecue restaurant Thursday night, Holland said. The vehicle and gun were brought back Friday to Houston County for processing, he said.

Columbus police Lt. Lynn Joiner said an anonymous tip led them to the gun.

When Collins previously went missing for about a month in May, she stayed with friends in Columbus, which is why authorities searched for her there, Holland said.

This isn’t Collins’ first run-in with the law. A $7,500 bond was posted for her June 30 after she and Tanisha Green, 18, of Warner Robins, were both charged with theft by receiving in connection with a silver Honda Accord reported stolen in Warner Robins, said Dublin police detective Stacey Sapp. The car was recovered in Dublin.

Collins and Green were also each charged by Dublin police with theft by deception for pawning stolen property, a laptop, Sapp said. That case is pending trial.

In addition, Collins was charged in a Feb. 26 burglary, and that case is pending trial in Houston County.

A motive for the killing remains unclear, and Holland said he could not speculate.

“It’s tragic,” he said.

India was a student at Mossy Creek Middle School and Carmen had attended Houston County High School. She also had attended the Crossroads Center, an alternative school, Holland said.

Carmen is being held in the Houston County jail without bond on murder and arson charges in connection with the slaying. Additional charges of aggravated assault and theft of a motor vehicle are under consideration by the district attorney’s office for possible review by a grand jury, Holland said. District Attorney George Hartwig said prosecutors will examine the case file before determining whether the additional charges are warranted.

Carmen has been interviewed by authorities, but Holland declined to elaborate.

Putting the pieces together

Authorities knew very quickly that they were dealing with more than a fatal house fire, Holland said.

Emergency medical personnel reported finding possible gunshot wounds on the 12-year-old’s body, while firefighters discovered shell casings, Holland said.

A few hours later, authorities were certain the older sister was the suspected shooter, Holland said.

Investigators found no evidence of an intruder, a canvass of neighbors found no reports of unusual people in the area, and Carmen herself was missing, as was the family dog and family vehicle, Holland said.

As investigators put the pieces of the puzzle together, Holland said he gradually told the parents, who were shopping at the time of the slaying, more and more in an attempt to prepare them for what they were about to learn.

“They are very, very traumatized and grief-stricken over what has occurred,” Holland said. “They’re in shock.”

The parents, Angela and John Collins, could not be reached for comment Friday. John Collins is employed by Allens, a canning manufacturer, while his wife is employed by Weyerhaeuser, a pulp and paper company, according to the sheriff’s incident report.

The Kathleen home, which was processed for crime scene evidence, was released to the family Thursday night and the crime scene tape that once stretched across the front lawn was taken down, Holland said.

A makeshift memorial of flowers and gifts rested near the family’s mailbox.

The Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus contributed to this report. To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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