WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)-Last fall, the “sniper” had the D.C. metropolitan area gripped in fear. Now, with six of 24 unsolved arsons since March recently classified as “similar in nature,” the area once again is on edge.
Those six cases at occupied homes and apartment buildings have been conclusively linked through physical evidence. Five of them were in Prince George’s County, Md., a predominantly Black suburb, and one in Washington, D.C.
The fires, which occurred in the early morning hours, typically between 4 and 5 a.m., were purposely set using an ignitable liquid, according to investigators. Most residents have escaped unharmed; some have received minor injuries, leaving an 86-year-old grandmother in D.C. as the only fatality.
Fire Investigators and agents from Prince George’s (PG) County, D.C., and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), have interviewed over 200 people in their efforts to identify the person(s) responsible for these fires.
“It is important for our citizens to know that our governments are working together to capture this individual quickly,” said D.C. Mayor AnthonyWilliams.
Investigators believe that someone in the community knows something about this string of fires, but isn’t coming forward.
PG County Executive Jack Johnson stressed, “Someone in our communities has the information. Investigators need to stop these crimes.”
When asked by the Washington Post what the greatest challenge is of this investigation, PG County Fire Chief Ronald D. Blackwell said, “The greatest challenge has been citizen and resident information gathering. I believe there is someone who knows the person or persons responsible. Our greatest challenge has been to get them to come forward and provide information that will help us solve these crimes.”
While authorities investigate and search for clues, residents in both areas are wondering why it’s taking the authorities so long to solve 24 arsons since March.
“I don’t understand what’s taking so long? I’m scared every night I go to bed. We work hard for our money, and don’t buy homes for some lunatic to come in the dark of the night and set them on fire. I wish I would catch some fool around my house at night trying to burn it down. I would get a pit bull, but they’re illegal in PG County. But I got something for them,” said Mabel Williams of PG County, shaking her head.
“People are scared around here. We don’t know whose house will be next. We don’t know if someone else will get burned up and die or if someone will get seriously hurt,” she said holding a new baseball bat.
The task force is looking closely at all of the fires to determine if any more are connected. They are looking at commonalities in dates, locations, times and methodology.
“In my more than 30 years of fire service, I have seen a number of fires that have been intentionally set and caused great damage, but what makes this particular string of arsons different than others I’ve seen is the sheer number of arsons in such a short time period involving occupied structures,” said Chief Blackwell to the Post.
The task force has established a tip line, 240-508-7931, and a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for these crimes.
Chief Blackwell said, “We have a task force of talented and experienced fire investigators and law enforcement officials working diligently to solve these crimes, but we also need the help of the community. We ask you, our neighbors, to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Arson Task Force, reporting any suspicious behaviors.”
His advice to the community, “In the event of a fire at their home or residence, ensure there is a working smoke alarm inside their property and practice a home escape plan.”