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Officials: Arson was cause of deadly fire

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Arson was the cause of the mobile home fire that killed an 8-year-old girl and critically burned two other children Thursday in Sunland Park, the State Fire Marshal’s Office has determined.

“This has escalated to a crime, a homicide investigation,” said Peter Ibarbo, a spokesman for the city of Sunland Park.

The lead investigator’s conclusion was based on initial findings.

“We still have a full team from the fire marshal’s out here,” Ibarbo said.

The city issued a news release Saturday citing the fire marshal’s findings and asking the public for any information about the fire or suspicious activity that was seen.

Marisa Muñoz, a third-grade student at Desert View Elementary, died in the blaze fanned by high winds when Sunland Park firefighters arrived around 3:40 a.m.

Investigators are working to determine the cause of a mobile home fire in Sunland Park. An 8-year-old girl died in the fire early Thursday, and two other children were critically injured. (Angela Kocherga/Journal)

“Currently, the young child’s cause of death is still unknown,” according to the news release. Results of an autopsy are pending.

The children injured were Muñoz’s cousins, according to relatives. Julian Duran, a fifth-grade student at Desert View Elementary, and Jasmine Valenzuela, a seventh-grade student at Santa Teresa Middle School, were airlifted to a burn center in Lubbock, Texas, in critical condition. An update on their conditions was not available Saturday.

Three adults in the home were treated for minor injuries.

The Sunland Park Fire Department called for help from fire departments in Doña Ana County, Santa Teresa and El Paso. The mobile home was almost completely destroyed.

The Fire Marshal’s Office issued the preliminary finding as soon as possible to reach out to potential witnesses who could provide tips to investigators. Anyone with information is asked to call the Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority’s non-emergency number at (575) 526-0795.