Murder probe continues as Broken Arrow tries to mend


By John Dobberstein, Editor

When last weekend arrived, a cool rain settled over Broken Arrow after a horrific tragedy left many residents numb and in disbelief.

Trick-or-treat parties, church services, a band competition and other activities carried on, but clearly the violent deaths of 8 people just a few days ago was on people's minds. 

The Broken Arrow Police Department still put on its Safety Spooktacular, one of the department's biggest events of the year, in the Rose District less than a mile from the scene of the deaths. Tributes were made to first responders and city leaders offered up a prayer of healing. 

At 425 S. Hickory Ave. at the crime scene, yellow tape had been pulled away over the weekend. The television cameras, police cars, utility trucks, fire engines and broken string of vehicular gawkers were gone. The only sign that remained of the horrific deaths of 6 children and 2 adults was a charred white shell of a house.

Tragedies often bring an outpouring of memorials and gifts where someone has perished, let alone where several children were killed. But sadly, the only thing seen Sunday evening in front of the house was a single pot of flowers sitting under a tree. There were no signs, candles, crosses, pictures, stuffed animals or other memorabilia.

The husband and wife who perished were Brian Anthony Nelson, 34, and Britney Nichole Nelson, 32. They attended high school together and had been married since 2008. Police identified them as the “suspects” in the killings.

As of Sunday night Broken Arrow police had not officially released the names of the children who died. But the Tulsa World reported they were 13-year-old Brian II, Brantley, 9, Vegeta, 7, Ragnar, 5, Kurgan, 2, and Britannica, 1.

Financial burdens

The Associated Press, via the Tulsa World, reported that Brian Nelson's parents, Danny and Marilyn Nelson, received a call Thursday afternoon, the day of the fire, asking if they could babysit their grandchildren around 5 p.m.

“Five came and went. Then it was 6. I texted them — no responses,” Danny Nelson told the Tulsa World. “I turned on the 6 o’clock news, and they said there had been a fire near Hickory and Galveston in Broken Arrow. That’s where my son lives.”

Over the past few days, media reports and a review of federal bankruptcy records indicated that Brittney and Brian were not employed and living mostly on public benefits, feeling the pressure of medical and financial problems.

A chapter 7 bankruptcy filing from 2020 shows they had more than $137,000 in debt, most of it in student loans. They were not paying rent, taking assistance from the Oklahoma Housing Authority.

The AP reported that Brian Nelson experienced recurring pain after suffering a concussion while stocking dairy refrigerators at a large retail chain.

“I want people to know that at one time he had all his brain together,” Marilyn Nelson told the Tulsa World. “I just don’t understand why they did what they did.”

When firefighters descended on the residential fire at 4:05 p.m. last Thursday, all the deceased children were found by in a bedroom in the back of the small house.

Medical examiners are working to determine the cause of death for the victims, although Broken Arrow police and fire investigators said it didn’t appear they died from the fire itself. Several firearms were recovered from the home but police have not confirmed if the manner of death for the victims was gunshots.

'Tragedy of a lifetime'

While the lives of the victims have ended, first responders to the scene will continue to deal with the shock of what they saw last Thursday. They stalwartly worked a complex crime scene Thursday and Friday in the face of unimaginable death and destruction.

“To arrive scene and see the look on our first responders’ and our firefighters’ faces, it absolutely broke my heart,” said Broken Arrow Fire Chief Jeremy Moore said this past week. “No one should have to face this kind of tragedy and our firefighters do face this from time to time. We definitely learned some strong lessons in this community about facing tragedies such as this.”

Moore said the department immediately starting setting up counseling and peer support teams at the scene Thursday to help first responders and their families deal with what they witnessed.

“We know this can have traumatic effects on individuals throughout their life and it can have a cumulative effect too,” Moore said. “It’s a once in a lifetime tragedy.”

On Sunday night, a beautiful rainbow appeared from horizon to horizon. Perhaps it is a sign that the residents of Broken Arrow, family members of the victims and those involved in the response and investigation can move to the path of finding answers and healing. 

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