LAKELAND — In the wake of four Tuesday arrests in the brutal arson-murder of 12-year-old Laquinta Bowens, her family remembered her life and thanked the community for its support.

“Laquinta was an ordinary young lady,” the Bowens and West family stated in a letter given to The Valdosta Daily Times. “She wanted to have friends, talk on the cell phone, and most of all, sing. If you knew her, you could understand her. She always had a smile that is sorely missed every day that we spend without her. She always wanted to give you a hug, and that embrace will also be missed terribly.”

Bowens’ family has tried to remain positive during the tragic situation and pray for strength as the investigation into the arson of the West family’s home continues.

“We are trying to cope with our loss the best way we can,” the family stated in the letter. “We ask that everyone continue to pray that we get stronger, just as we continue to pray for this community. Laquinta would not want it any other way.”

Edna Hernandez, a relative of the West family, said that the family plans to relocate to Alabama after the investigation is completed.

“They have been back and forth from Alabama to Lakeland because of the case,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said that the family has been staying with her and Anthony West’s brother, Tim Davis, while in Lakeland.

The investigation came closer to completion Tuesday morning with the arrest of four suspects in connection to the February arson-homicide.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Lakeland Police Department arrested Antonio “Tom” McCutchin, 20, at his Lakeland home, and a 16-year-old juvenile, who was arrested at Valdosta High School. Both suspects are charged with malice murder, felony murder, four counts of aggravated assault, aggravated battery, arson in the first degree, and criminal damage to property in the first degree, according to the GBI.

Authorities also arrested McCutchin’s mother, 36-year-old Patricia Ann McCutchin, at her Lakeland home, and another 16-year-old juvenile, who was arrested at Lanier High School, on charges of hindering law-enforcement officers, the release stated.

Lakeland Police Chief Robbie Grantham said the arrests came after gathering evidence from the crime scene and interviewing several witnesses. Although no one else is suspected in the arson at this time, Grantham asserted the investigation remains open and additional arrests could be made.

Grantham said that the arson appears to have stemmed from an ongoing argument between at least one of the suspects and someone who was staying in the West family home.

“They had gotten in an argument on the Sunday and Monday nights prior to the incident,” Grantham said. “The argument that took place Monday night led to a threat being made on the person staying at the residence.”

At 2:13 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, emergency responders in Lanier County were dispatched to 807 E. Davis St. to find the home engulfed in flames.

Glenn Allen of the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John W. Oxendine said that the fire began after at least one homemade explosive, possibly a Molotov cocktail, was thrown into the living room, where Laquinta Bowens slept on a couch. Five other occupants of the house were able to escape. Bowens died in the fire.

The investigation is being handled by Lakeland Police Department and the GBI. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Lanier County Coroner’s Office, Lanier County Sheriff’s Office, State Fire Marshall’s Office and Georgia State Patrol Aviation Unit have assisted in the case.

Anyone with additional information pertaining to this investigation is encouraged to contact either the Lakeland Police Department at (229) 482-3309 or the GBI’s Douglas office at (912) 389-4103.

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