Detroit arsonist caught on tape arrested

The Detroit News

Detroit — Surveillance video of a man calmly dousing an apartment with gasoline and lighting a match led to his arrest on Tuesday.

Detroit arson investigators on Tuesday afternoon arrested a 27-year-old man on Harper Avenue, not far from an apartment complex on Shoemaker near McClellan that burned on Sunday night and displaced 30-40 residents.

Tipsters identified the man after and other media outlets posted the video, said Arson Chief Charles Simms.

During questioning, the man implicated himself, Simms said. The suspect recently pleaded guilty to a drug charge and had served about six years in prison on an armed robbery charge.

Investigators are trying to confirm whether the arsonist helped save a small child after starting the fire. A woman told investigators she passed her child through a window to a man dressed in white clothes similar to those worn by the man in the video.

The video attracted attention because of the apparent brazenness and calmness of the act.

Walking slowly, a man in white moved up and down the second floor with a bleach bottle full of gasoline. He left a trail by apartment doors, took his time and slowly circled back to the other side.

Two dogs emerged from an apartment, presumably because of the scent of gasoline, then scurried back inside. Moments later, the hallway is engulfed in flames. The man then left via the stairway.

Sprinkler systems extinguished the blaze but water damage is extensive.

"He didn't know what he was doing, but this was a fully occupied apartment with lots of women and children," said firefighter Paul Fillmore of Engine 52. "If this guy had known what he was doing, he could have killed a lot of people."