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Vigil set Wednesday for victims of fatal Western Apartments arson in Sterling

Accused arsonist still facing murder, arson charges

STERLING – A candlelight vigil will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday by the family of two children killed in a horrific arson fire two years ago.

Celina Serrano, 13; her cousin, Shyla Walker, 8, of Davenport; and Carrie A. (Hall) Hose, a 49-year-old neighbor, died June 1, 2020, in the inferno at Western Apartments, 908 W. Fourth St.

Steven W. Coleman, 42, of Rock Falls, who investigators said set the fire about 12:30 a.m. in a drug deal gone bad, is charged with six counts of murder, each punishable by 20 to 60 years or up to life in prison, and four arson-related charges, three aggravated arson charges that carry terms of six to 30 years in prison and one residential arson charge that carries a term of four to 15 years.

The longtime felon, who was on parole at the time of the incident, is at the Whiteside County jail on a $1 million bond. He has a pretrial hearing June 28.

Celina’s mother, Alma Walker, 37, and her sister, 14-year-old Teleah Serrano, survived the fire, which destroyed one of the complex’s two buildings. That building still is boarded up and empty.

No one else was injured.

Participants are asked to bring their own candles to the vigil.

Before the vigil, a Mass in Celina’s memory will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 600 Ave. B in Sterling, Celina’s grandmother, Grace Myers, said in an email.

“I want to remember my granddaughter as a very happy little girl that loved life to the fullest and just wanted to go to school,” Myers wrote.

“We want it made clear we want justice for her and the others,” she said, adding that she also wants more people to be aware of fire safety, and that having a second building exit would have helped.

A vigil also was held on last year’s anniversary.

Coleman is charged with three counts of aggravated arson, three counts of murder while committing a “forcible felony,” which in this case would be aggravated arson, and three counts of murder done while committing actions he knew had a “strong probability” of causing death or great bodily harm to another.

The prosecution would need to prove at least one of the aggravated arson charges for him to be convicted of one or more of the three first-degree murder charges.

If, however, the jury fails to find Coleman guilty of aggravated arson, it still can consider the other three murder charges.

He can be found guilty only of up to three of them.

Coleman has a history of felony convictions in Whiteside, Lee and Carroll counties dating back to the mid-1990s that includes theft, driving under the influence, criminal damage to property, burglary, robbery and dealing cocaine.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.