Documents in the Blair County Courthouse raise the possibility that an Altoona homicide suspect might have used fire in the past as a way to get revenge on a girlfriend.
The court papers are part of two protection-from-abuse complaints filed this year against Aaron Wilson Dishong, 62, of East Freedom who Altoona police allege set Thursday's fire at 113 S. Second St. that killed 3-year-old Daryl Etchison Jr. and sent his mother, Brandy, and 2-year-old sister, Madison, to a Pittsburgh hospital.
Brandy and Madison Etchison were flown to UPMC in Pittsburgh. Madison was expected to be released from the hospital Friday, the Blair County District Attorney's Office said. No new information on Brandy Etchison's condition was available Friday, a UPMC spokeswoman said.
Dishong was taken into custody Thursday night after two people came forward to say Dishong had cased the house two days before the fire and bragged that he set the fire to kill an ex-girlfriend he mistakenly thought was staying at the home.
He is charged with homicide, attempted homicide, arson and other offenses.
Records show violent past
Two PFA complaints filed this year - filed separately by a son and Dishong's most recent girlfriend - portray Dishong as an abusive and violent man bent on revenge.
In January, Dishong's son wanted him banned from his Roaring Spring residence. The reason for the request for court-authorized protection was that Dishong "has problems getting revenge on people, he has burned down his ex-gf's [sic] house and I don't want him doing it to me," court documents state.
The complaint said Dishong "gets mean and hits things a lot."
"I'm scared he might try and take my life or my family or girlfriend's life," the son claimed.
He goes on to say that Dishong beat him frequently as a child.
When the case came up for a hearing before Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter on Jan. 19, it was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled. Carpenter didn't say why the case was dismissed.
Roaring Spring police indicated that Dishong did live in Roaring Spring but eventually left his son's home and went to East Freedom.
Police and other authorities are researching Dishong's background to determine if there is anything relevant to the current charges or if there is anything that could have an impact on sentencing if Dishong is convicted, Blair County Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise said Friday.
Kagarise said that he was not aware of the PFA complaint against Aaron Dishong in which it is stated that he burned down his ex-girlfriend's house. He also said he is unaware of any prior criminal record for Dishong.
An autopsy was conducted Friday on Daryl's body and the results will be released when a report has been prepared by the pathologist, Kagarise said.
PFA hearing before fire
The fire that Dishong is accused of setting was only hours before Dishong was to appear before Senior Judge Thomas G. Peoples on a recent PFA complaint filed by an Altoona woman.
On Nov. 5, she stated in the court document, she needed court-ordered protection "because I'm in fear of my life and my family's life due to all the mental and emotional abuse he has done to me and my household." She said Dishong threatened her to the point she needed someone with her at all times.
"He has a plan to kill me & I need protection to prevent this from happening," she wrote.
Police contend that Dishong tried to do just that, kill his estranged paramour by setting her residence on fire.
Dishong celebrated when he heard someone had died in the fire that was initially reported as accidental, a witness told police. He was celebrating because he thought his target had died, court documents state.
When he arrived in court and saw the woman was there and ready to testify against him, a continuance in the hearing was granted.
On Dishong's Facebook page, he wrote Wednesday, "good bye everyone had a great life just have to bring things to an end for someone and me, and in another post he wrote, "A true love can not be shut off with a goodbye like some wonts. love goes two ways It only ends if you want it to but when I go Ill take that love with me."
Dishong's ex-paramour and Brandy Etchison were friends, police said.
The woman had stayed at the home but was not there when Dishong allegedly broke in and started a fire in the living room at just after 6 a.m., authorities said.
Brandy Etchison jumped from a third-story window, onto the porch roof and then onto the concrete below, but was unable to save Daryl, police said. Firefighters pulled Daryl from the home, and he died at Altoona Regional.
Police searched Dishong's home and recovered evidence, Altoona police Detective Sgt. Benjamin Jones said Friday.
Dishong was barefooted and wearing a hospital gown Thursday night at his arraignment before Magisterial District Judge Todd F. Kelly because his clothes were taken as evidence, Jones said.
As family and friends of the family rallied around Brandy and Madison Etchison, students and staff at the Altoona Area School District's Learning Express at Curtin Preschool mourned Daryl's death.
The entire district was "devastated by the death of this child and expresses their deepest sympathies to the family at this most difficult time," school district spokeswoman Paula Foreman said.
The school is in the early stages of setting up a way for people to help the family, Foreman said.
The family will have some help with funeral expenses, Blair County Victim Witness Program Coordinator Sue Griep said. The Etchisons, however, have lost everything on top of losing a child, and ways to help the family are being explored, the supervisor of Altoona's domestic abuse shelter said.
This case is typical of domestic abuse, and while the intended target of Dishong was fortunate to have not been at the home, it was tragic that domestic abuse claimed the life of a toddler, Lacey Ceshini of Family Services Inc. said.
"It's a clear-cut example of what we've been saying all along," Ceshini said. "Violence increases when the woman tries to get out of a situation."
In most cases, a PFA order is enough to get an abuser to "get a grip on themselves" and cease with harassment, stalking and other obsessive acts aimed at controlling and intimidating, Ceshini said.
Sometimes, however, it's not enough, and getting the court involved can enrage some abusers, sometimes with tragic consequences, she said.
Women are encouraged to use the shelter after filing a PFA order, to further place a buffer between them and the abuser, Ceshini said.
With 21 beds and a staff on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Family Services shelter is one way to help protect women attempting to leave an abusive situation.
"We're always there, and we're always full," Ceshini said. "But that doesn't stop us."
The shelter turns no one away because there's no way to predict which cases will end in violence and which ones won't, she said.