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Parents were in jail when kids died in Oceanway fire
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Parents were in jail when kids died in Oceanway fire

Parents were in jail when kids died in Oceanway fire
Photo Credit: Florida Department of Corrections
The grandmother who was temporarily caring for her grandchildren was a registered sex offender following a 1997 case involving lewd and lascivious acts on a child.

Parents were in jail when kids died in Oceanway fire

After three children and their grandmother died in a fire in Oceanway Tuesday night, we've learned the kids had only been in her care for a few days.

"We saw the situation as a temporary one, we were looking to gather further information", said DCF Spokesperson John Harrell. 

DCF tells us they were looking in to the grandmother's prior arrests, which included a sex offense that led to Shelia Swearingen being forced to register as a sex offender in 1997. 

WOKV obtained an arrest report from August 1996 that shows Shelia Woods (at the time) was arrested for a lewd/lascivious act in the presence of a minor.  According to the report, a 12-year-old child said he was present in the same room when Shelia was having sex with a 15-year-old child. 

DCF's Harrell says it was the most stable situation for the children.  Their mother, Jennifer Fowler, has been in jail since March for probation violation.

The father, Richard Fowler, was arrested Saturday evening at EverBank Field on charges of child neglect, possession of a controlled substance, and restisting an officer.

According to the arrest report, Richard Fowler was attempting to change a child's clothes after the victim had vomited.  Police say Fowler was swaying from side to side and his speech was slurred.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office inmate database, Richard Fowler was released on bond at 1am Wednesday, hours after his children had died in the fire.   Jennifer Fowler was also released Wednesday, temporarily, to care for her 6-year-old daughter. 

DCF Spokesman John Harrell couldn't say who will get custody of the surviving 6-year-old, Hattie Fowler. 

The grandmother, Shelia Swearingen, had no restrictions related to her sex offender status.  However a check of her arrest record shows failure to update her drivers license, and a 2004 arrest for burglary.

DCF's John Harrell says anytime there is a child death, standard procedure includes an internal investigation. 

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