Chapter one: 'Something that was planned, that was thought about and enacted'
February 27 marks one year since a Monroe County mother and son died in a house fire. Within days, investigators said the fire was no accident and said the main suspect was a 16-year-old, the daughter and sister of the victims.
Now, Candace Walton and her boyfriend each face seven counts, including malice murder and felony murder for each victim, theft by taking and first-degree arson, according to their indictment by a Monroe County grand jury.
The house is now gone and a new home is being built.
When 13WMAZ first got to the scene nearly a year ago, officials said a house fire took the lives of two siblings. Then, the mother and her car were missing, but that then spiraled into a completely different story -- an arson investigation and a double murder investigation. Now, the daughter who was once believed to be the victim of the fire is a suspect.
"They found a very small-framed body in what was said to be Candace Walton's bedroom. They made the initial assessment that it must be Ms. Walton because the mother's car was gone," said Jonathan Adams, the district attorney of the Towaliga Judicial Circuit.
"She never let her kids alone. Everywhere she went, her kids went," said Bassema Dawoud, who lived across the street from the Waltons and Candace's mother, Tasha Vandiver.
Nearly 1 year since Monroe County arson that took the lives of a mother and son
The first body was identified as 21-year-old Gerald Walton. The GBI Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the second body was not Candace Walton, but rather her mother, Tasha.
But where was Candace, and where was that car?
Monroe County Sheriff's Office already had a missing person alert for the mother earlier in the day, containing with this car's description and its license plate number.
By that afternoon, the U.S. Marshals stopped the car hundreds of miles away in McCracken County, Kentucky.
Candace Walton was driving, and the district attorney says she had about $2,300 with her -- her mother's tax refund.
Candace became the person of interest in the arson and murder investigations.
The question on everyone's mind was, "Why would a teenage girl burn down her own home to kill her mother and brother?"
"What we've been able to gather from evidence, her main motive was, quite frankly, to get away from her family and wanting to spend time with her boyfriend," Adams said.
Walton's boyfriend was 17-year-old Kaleo Pangelinan.
District Attorney Jonathan Adams says Walton and Pangelinan had been in a relationship for less than a year while he briefly lived in Monroe County. Adams says he later moved back to Oregon.
Investigators took a closer look at that long distance relationship, and the messages between the two. The district attorney says he cannot release those messages, but after seeing them, he believes the crime was premeditated.
"It was certainly something that was planned, that was thought about and enacted," Adams said.
Adams says Walton and her mother had a strained relationship, but Tasha's concern for her daughter was evident, even in her final moments.
"The sad story is we believe the mother was trying to save Candace. She was going into her bedroom to try to alert her about the fire. We know the brother was at the door of his bedroom, trying to get out," Adams said.
Investigators say smoke inhalation was the cause of death for both Gerald Walton and Tasha Vandiver.
Their next-door neighbor Bassema Dawoud says Vandiver was protective of her kids.
"All she wanted was the best for her children with what little she had," Dawoud said about Tasha.
"Gerald was very friendly and would sometimes play basketball. Just very kind. You could just tell by his demeanor. He had a good spirit," Dawoud said.
Both Walton and Pangelinan were extradited back to Georgia and now sit in the Monroe County jail, awaiting a trial as soon as fall of this year. The pair pleaded not guilty in January and Walton's lawyer requested a psychological evaluation for her. Adams says the court process has been delayed, due to COVID-19.
13WMAZ reached out to Walton's lawyer through the Monroe County Public Defenders Office. The office says they do not comment on cases.
However, Kaleo Pangelinan's lawyer, Brad Moody, said in a statement: "Mr. Pangelinan was a resident of Oregon at all times and was in Oregon at the time the fire was started and the deaths occurred. He is in no way directly involved in either the arson or the murders."
Elizabeth Presley, Chief Assistant District Attorney, says Pangelinan faces the same charges as Candace Walton because he encouraged and helped to plan the crimes.