Cause of death revealed in Northfield explosion

Posted at 8:57 AM, Mar 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-17 17:16:55-04

The Summit County Medical Examiner has released the cause of death for the two adults and two children who were killed in a house explosion in Northfield in January.

The case was officially ruled a murder-suicide on Thursday. Based on the report, it is unclear which parent was responsible for the deaths of the children.

According to the report, Jeffrey Mather committed suicide by using gasoline to set the Skyhaven Road house on fire while he was still inside.

Cynthia Mather, the mother, died from an overdose of serotonin inhibitor Prozac, the medical examiner reports. It is unclear whether Cynthia took the medication herself. The medical examiner listed her matter of death as "undetermined." 

Both girls--ages 8 and 12--died from "probable asphyxial mechanism of uncertain type." Their deaths were ruled homicides.

According to the report, neither Cynthia nor the children had evidence of smoke inhalation, indicating they were unconscious or dead before the fire was set.

"It makes me mad, knowing now that it was helpless," said Randy Nickshinski, a neighbor who kicked in the front door with his son to try to save anyone inside. "They were dead, it's a shame."

At the end of the report Summit County Medical Examiner Gary Guenther noted: "It is unclear which parent is responsible for the death of the two children or how the children were asphyxiated and we will not speculate on the circumstances."

"We were always wondering, were they alive in the fire and died in the fire," said Fire District Chief Frank Risko. "At least we know now that the fire didn’t kill them.”

Risko said the cause of death report brings him and his colleagues closure. But for Nickshinski, it prompts anger and confusion.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered here," he added. "Did somebody drug her [the mother]?"

Just days after the Jan. 11 explosion, the medical examiner announced that the case was being investigated as a murder-suicide following the discovery of a gas can next to the father's body.

Shortly after that, learned that Jeff had been having problems with his work at Swagelok, where he was employed 20 years.

Records also showed he tried to commit suicide in early December. A Cleveland Metroparks Ranger Department report stated that two officers were dispatched to the Lagoons Picnic Area in Brook Park on Dec. 2 for a report of a man having psychiatric issues. The person who called police said the man had a shotgun.

When officers arrived they found Jeff who appeared to be very upset and was crying, police said. The officers spoke with him and recovered the shotgun near the shoreline of the lagoon. It was loaded with one slug round.

The report said Jeff told police he had been suffering from severe depression for a couple of months, but he was not receiving treatment. He said that day he decided to drive to the park and kill himself with the shotgun. He said he walked to the shoreline, loaded the gun and even placed the muzzle against his head. Every time he saw a park visitor walk by, he would lower the gun. He told police just before pulling the trigger he prayed for help and that is when the individual who called police approached him. The caller stayed with Jeff until officers arrived at the scene. Jeff was later taken to the Southwest General Health Center for evaluation.

Cindy's father tried to call her three times the day of the explosion, but was unable to reach her, according to records. Cindy's sister had also texted her a few days before the explosion. During that conversation, Cindy said things were not going well with Jeff.

Nordonia Hills Schools, the district in which one of the girls was a student, released the following statement to after the explosion:

The school was never given any indication there were problems at home. Mom [Cindy Mather] volunteered all the time and never gave any indication there were problems. Ruthie [the second-grade daughter] was the same, happy and vibrant.

Huntington Bank, the company that holds the mortgage on the home, said they will be tearing it down next week.