After autopsy, cause of pregnant woman's death still unclear

Posted at: 04/06/2014 12:20 AM
Updated at: 04/06/2014 12:29 AM
By: Steve Flamisch

TROY – At a growing roadside memorial, family and friends lit candles Saturday in memory of Vanessa Milligan, whose face now appears on tee-shirts in the Lansingburgh neighborhood she called home.

Milligan, 19, was nine months pregnant when she was found dead on Thursday night. She was due to give birth to a baby girl on April 10. The unborn child did not survive.

"This is so hard," Milligan’s close friend, Wanda Anaya, said as tears streamed down her cheeks. "I can’t stop thinking about her, and crying every time."

Milligan was found dead in her Fifth Avenue apartment after the building went up in flames. Investigators don’t know if she died before -- or because -- of the fire, Troy Police Captain John Cooney said.

"As we've seen many times, there could be a lot more there: that the fire was set by someone else to cover up," Cooney told NewsChannel 13.

The autopsy is complete, but additional forensic testing is needed to determine the cause of Milligan’s death -- and whether it was accidental or criminal, Cooney said. Answers are expected in a few days.

"We are not leaning in any direction, per se, right now," Cooney said. "But it's fair to say we are wide open to either (possibility)."

Also wide open is the investigation into the fire itself. Authorities are looking into reports of a possible explosion preceding the flames, and eyewitness accounts of one or two people running from the scene.

Ralph Diotte said he was visiting his girlfriend, who lived on the second floor of Milligan’s building, when they heard a loud blast.

"The whole floor -- I was on the couch -- was going like this, rocking back and forth," Diotte said, shifting his arms from side to side. "I thought it was an earthquake."

It’s unclear whether there really was an explosion, or anything in the building that might have caused it, Troy Fire Chief Tom Garrett said. Investigators were still working to determine what happened.

Compounding the tragedy, the woman who raised Milligan died of cancer the day before the fire. Marilyn Houser was the mother of Milligan’s aunt and uncle, the family’s pastor said.