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Entries in Arson Fires (5)

Thursday
Jan052012

LA Arson Suspect Charged with 37 Counts; Bail Set at $2.85 Million

Hemera/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The man accused of igniting dozens of fires across Los Angeles during a four-day rampage over New Year's weekend now faces 37 counts of arson and is being held on nearly $3 million bail.

Harry Burkhart was charged with 28 counts of arson of property and nine counts of arson of an inhabited structure Wednesday night when he appeared at a Los Angeles courthouse to be arraigned, according to District Attorney Steve Cooley.  The 24-year-old German national had bail set at $2.85 million.

The charges also allege that an incendiary device designed to accelerate the fire was placed under the engine area of cars.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra ultimately decided to postpone Burkhart's arraignment until Jan. 24, after a delay was requested by the suspect's public defender.  More charges could be filed at that date.

Prosecutors alleged that Burkhart was "motivated by his rage against Americans" when he set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area, primarily in Hollywood and the Sherman Oaks neighborhoods.  

Sources told ABC News Burkhart may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago.

At the hearing, Burkhart broke into a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements before being escorted from the courtroom by U.S. Marshalls, officials told ABC News.  Officials said he shouted "F... the United States" during the Dec. 29 hearing, one day before he disappeared and the fires in Hollywood began.

According to a redacted criminal complaint that was unsealed Wednesday, Burkhart's mother was facing extradition because she pilfered rent security deposits and had skipped out on paying for a breast augmentation surgery.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan042012

Federal Agent Recognized Accused Los Angeles Arsonist

An apartment complex that was burned in a spree of arson fires lies in ruins on Jan. 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif. David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The German man who authorities have called "the most dangerous arsonist in L.A. history" was recognized on surveillance tape by a sharp-eyed State Department agent, officials said Tuesday.

An agent in the department's Diplomatic Security field office recognized accused arsonist Harry Burkhart in the surveillance footage circulated by the Los Angeles Police Department as the son of a woman who was being extradited.

The agent, who was not being identified, contacted the LAPD, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told ABC News.

"Over the New Year's Eve weekend, that task force put out a video showing a person of interest exiting a parking lot and asked for the public's help," Nuland said.

The agent was familiar with Burkhart because of a "separate ongoing investigation about a German national that we've been having with the LAPD," she said.  The tip led to Burkhart's arrest, Nuland said.

Burkhart, 24, will appear in court Wednesday to face charges that he allegedly set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area over a period of four days.

Authorities said they were "very confident" in the arrest of Burkhart, who told police officers, "I hate America" as they placed him under arrest.

Burkhart, a German national, may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, sources told ABC News.

Burkhart broke into a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements, during the hearing for his mother, before being escorted from the courtroom by U.S. Marshalls, officials told ABC News.

Officials said he shouted "F... the United States" during the Dec. 29 hearing, one day before he disappeared and the fires in Hollywood began.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan032012

LA Arson Suspect Identified, Possibly Motivated by Deportation Battle

An apartment complex that was burned in a spree of arson fires lies in ruins on Jan. 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif. David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Officials Monday evening identified a man arrested after a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area, and hailed the reserve deputy sheriff who apprehended him.

"Our long, four-day nightmare is over," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told reporters.

Harry Burkhart, 24, was charged Monday afternoon with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling, with more charges expected as the investigation proceeds, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told reporters at a news conference.

"The residents of Hollywood and the city of West Hollywood may now resume the peace and safety they deserve," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said.  "A serial arsonist, I believe, has been caught."

Burkhart was caught during a traffic stop initiated by a Tehran, Iran-born Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department volunteer, Baca added.

"Deputy Shervin Lalezary, standing next to me, [is] a full-time attorney and a part-time reserve deputy sheriff, although for the past four days he's been working full time for $1 a year," Baca said.

"Give him a raise," someone at the news conference yelled out, prompting Baca jokingly to propose raising Lalezary's compensation to $2 per year.

According to ABC News sources directly involved in the case, the "prime suspect" under arrest told authorities upon his detention, "I hate America."

That suspect, at the time not publicly identified, was believed to be a German national who may have been motivated by a deportation hearing against his mother that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, the sources told ABC News exclusively.

The State Department gave the information to the intelligence and operational task forces involved in the manhunt, according to the sources.

The man was initially identified by police as a "person of interest," but the sources said he became a "prime suspect."  Officials later identified Burkhart, but they disclosed few details about his background.

"This is an ongoing investigation," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Monday evening.  "Details about the suspect will not be released tonight other than the name and some very general things. ... An arrest is not a prosecution and a prosecution is not a conviction.  We are very confident in this arrest, but we have a long way to go."

The suspect was detained and questioned by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who recognized the description of his van as possibly being connected to the fires, police said earlier in the day.  After subsequent interviews with police, he was arrested.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan032012

New York Arson Attacks Under Investigation as Hate Crimes

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Four arson attacks in Queens, N.Y., are being investigated as possible hate crimes against Muslims, police said.

The attacks, which took place around 8 p.m. Sunday, targeted an Islamic center housing a prominent Shiite mosque, a bodega and two private homes.

Police and fire officials say at least two of the attacks appear to have stemmed from a dispute at the bodega, where a customer of Guyanese descent argued with an employee.  The customer allegedly returned to the bodega and tossed a Molotov cocktail behind the counter.

Authorities were investigating whether the employee worshiped at the Islamic center, which was hit by a similar firebomb made from a glass Starbucks bottle.

"No matter what the motivation was of the individual who threw Molotov cocktails in Queens last night, his actions stand in stark contrast to the New York City of today that we've built together," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement Monday.

The door of the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation Islamic center was blackened by the blast but the building did not catch fire.

"We thank Allah (SWT) that no major damage or injury was caused by the blast," reads a message on the foundation's website.  "The Foundation reiterates its resolve to continue to serve the community and to strive to bring love where there is hatred, light where there is darkness and enlightenment where there is ignorance."

A fifth attack involving an incendiary device thrown through the front window of a home in neighboring Nassau County at 9:40 p.m. is also under investigation.  The device did not ignite a fire, and no injuries were reported.  NYPD officials say the firebomb matched the Molotov cocktails used in the first three Queens attacks.

Although none of the attacks caused any injuries, flames that erupted at one of the homes took more than 60 firefighters about 40 minutes to control.  The other home attacked, which also serves as a Hindu temple, was hit by two Molotov cocktails thrown from a van that sped away.  The bottles fizzled out.

All five incidents are under investigation as arsons.  At least some appeared to target Muslims.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan022012

Police Question 'Person of Interest' in Los Angeles Arson Fires

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Shortly after the last of at least 11 fires set in the Los Angeles area Sunday night was extinguished, police took into custody a person of interest who was detained close to the scene of at least one blaze.

ABC News has learned from two sources that there may have been an incendiary device in a mini-van parked near the scene of the blaze, and then cordoned off by police.

Arson investigators and sheriff deputies swarmed the scene where the man—said to resemble the person in a surveillance video released Sunday by Los Angeles police—was stopped and detained.

He is the fourth person detained in connection with the tidal wave of arson fires that has engulfed the city since Dec. 30.

"We currently have a person of interest that they [detectives] are interviewing," Capt. Jaime Moore, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman said Monday on Good Morning America.

Authorities Sunday distributed DVDs of a 20- to 30-year-old white male caught on surveillance video Saturday leaving an underground parking structure on Hollywood Boulevard where a car fire was reported.

Officials asked for the public's help in identifying the man, now wanted for questioning in connection with the 55 fires that have been set since Thursday.

Detectives estimated the man, who has a receding hairline and is seen in the video wearing a bulky jacket, is between 5-foot-6 and 6-foot-1.

Police Sunday also acknowledged they know of at least two other people who might be involved in the fires. Capt. Moore declined to say whether the person detectives are interviewing is the same man seen on the surveillance video.

"It's still too early to speculate whether or not this is the same person," he told GMA. "It's always a possibility that it could be just one individual, but we also have to look at the possibility of this being the work of more than one."

The fires have remained clustered in the areas of Hollywood and North Hollywood but, overnight, the arsons expanded to the San Fernando Valley. Capt. Moore confirmed Monday that 10 of the fires set overnight Sunday were in Los Angeles, while two were in West Hollywood.

Police have not yet released details on how the car fires were sparked or what information they have collected at the scenes as they continue to search for suspects.

In nearly every case, the fires were set overnight. So far, there have been no injuries as a result of the fires.

Officials are offering a $60,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Anyone with information is urged to call 911.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio