I am not an investigative journalist, I am not a cop and I am not criminal reporter. But I am a Heights resident. And along with the rest of the Heights residents, my family and I have have been watching with great interest and a palpable anxiety as the area has been terrorized this summer by a serial arsonist.
My family was lucky enough not to be direct victims of the arsonist and his fires, but he, most assuredly, changed our lives this summer.
To be fair, my family lives in a newer home on a street of mostly newer homes and the arsonist had targeted largely uninhabited and rundown structures. Additionally, our home is surrounded by a locked, gated fence and the arsonist had targeted mostly structures with clear escape routes. So, initially there was a feeling of detached safety. We felt comfortable in the notion that we were out of his reach.
But time went by. The count grew higher. The arsonist got more and more emboldened. His targeted area expanded further and further and it seemed that the police had no suspects or leads. Soon that feeling of separation disintegrated like so much old timber aflame.
My wife and children and I began looking around our street and the neighboring streets noticing each and every empty or deteriorating structure. We found asking ourselves, "Could that one be next? Or that one?" Our clearing in the woods was shrinking around us.
Then one day it was gone. The house at 807 Twelfth Street burnt. That house is two doors down.
The fire had hit home.
The kids talked about it all the time. My wife and I were on edge. I found myself literally sleeping with one eye open. Getting up to check the yard every time the dog barked. I believe I even began imagining noises out of a heightened sense of dreadful anticipation.
It is a horrible feeling to feel at risk in one's own home. A saddening sickness.
Thankfully, the terror might be over as Chron.com this weekend reported a break in the case. While the man charged is innocent until proven guilty, a collective sigh of relief could be heard escaping from the Heights. There is hope that we have awakened from the nightmare.
I do not know anything about arson investigation and I do not know how investigators found this suspect. It does strike me as odd that although he has had a troubled past, he has no history of being a pyromaniac or even playing with matches.
But these lines from Peggy O'Hare's interview with the suspect's father on Chron.com might provide the most telling reason to believe that the the fire is out.
"[His father] said he doubts his son set the fires but suspects he may have some information about who did." O'Hare writes. “'If he was involved with this,' [he] said, 'he'll have to take his medicine.'"
During the string of arsons I took photos of several the crime scenes. While the attacks were still happening I felt odd about posting them, but now that the spree has apparently ended, and since the damage was only property and not lives, I feel that they can effectively convey a sense of what the Heights has endured over the late summer.
This playhouse at a residence on Ashland had stood for years and been a play place for two generations.
Another view from the Tulane side. This playhouse was one of the arsonist's first targets.
This empty lot in the 1000 Block of Ashland once held a home. All that is left is the footwalk. The duplex in the background would be a future target.
The duplex was occupied at the time of the fire. Luckily the three men escaped with their lives.
This house sits right on 11th Street. A main thoroughfare in the Heights. The arsonist is getting bolder.
Another empty lot is all that remains.
The house at 807 12th. This is the one that investigators have linked to the suspect.
The fire strikes close to home.
Now just a lot.
This house at 1240 W. 23rd was for sale as a "fixer-upper."
Now its a "tear-down."
It was also the arsonist's last work.
If the police have the right man.