By Steve Large


TUOLUMNE COUNTY (CBS13) — Two 16-year-old boys are in custody facing murder and arson charges following the discovery of a body on the property of a house fire in the Tuolumne County mountains.

Friends and neighbors are describing the victim as a beloved woman always willing to give her time and energy to others.

Neighbor Chris Smith saw the fire break out.

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“It almost sounded like two loud bangs and a loud explosion,” Smith said.

Smith was in his own front yard when he saw flames igniting, and within minutes fire tore through his neighbor’s home.

Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office released photos of the crime scene.

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Smith and other neighbors and friends say the victim killed was a woman in her 30s who lived inside the home. They describe her as kind and giving, and as a mother of young children who were not living with her.

“She was short and sweet, for the most part,” Smith said.

“She was trying to turn her life around,” Neighbor Kevin Drake said. “She was trying to keep people she was in contact with before, trying to keep them out.”

Sheriff’s deputies are not releasing details about the motive in the murder case, or whether the teens under arrest knew the victim. Neighbors say they saw another person at the home when the fire broke out, walking away from the fiery scene.

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“I saw her walking away casually,” Smith said.

A Tuolumne County Sheriff spokesperson said more interviews are being conducted, and while the investigation is active, at this time there are no other suspects in this murder case.

An autopsy to determine the cause of the death, in this case, is planned. The Sheriff’s Office expects to release the victim’s ID when that autopsy is completed.

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