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Authorities Describe Farmhouse Fire

December 11, 1999

FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) _ A fire in a farmhouse where six people were found dead this week was started by a man who killed everyone inside _ including his children _ before stabbing himself, authorities said Friday.

Primitivo Juan Rivas, who had serious legal and financial problems, strangled his girlfriend and her two children, beat and stabbed his son to death and killed his daughter before setting the house on fire and stabbing himself in the chest, authorities said.

The six bodies were found Wednesday in the smoldering ruins of the farmhouse. A large butcher knife was recovered from the rubble and gasoline was found at the scene, authorities said.

``A lot of thought went into how that fire moved,″ said state fire marshal Tom Brace. ``This was not a fire where somebody `flicked a Bic.′ Clearly, the idea was total devastation.″

Rivas, 48, was supposed to start serving a 90-day sentence Monday for failing to pay child support to his ex-wife, but he never showed up at the Dakota County Jail. A warrant for his arrest was issued later that day.

Rivas, a computer engineer, had been out of work for more than a year and had run up thousands of dollars in credit card debt and defaulted on his mortgage. An order signed Tuesday showed Rivas owing more than $10,000 in child support, medical support and spousal maintenance as of March.

The victims were identified as Rivas’ girlfriend, Catherine Ranft, 37; her daughters’ Meredith Stephiewski, 6, and Caroline Stephiewski, 4; and his children, Tyler Rivas, 16, and KiAnn Rivas, 18.

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