We have very good news to report. The arsonist terrorizing Maspeth and Middle Village has been caught. Fire Marshals arrested him yesterday.
As residents living near these fires, we all believed they were small potatoes. As a matter of fact, none of us were aware of the full number of fires, the location of each fire, or what the cause was ‒ until now.
A perpetrator has confessed to 18 arson episodes. He has been charged with starting multiple fires in Middle Village, Maspeth, and the 112th Precinct ‒ most likely the terrible fire in the autumn in a high-rise apartment just off Woodhaven Boulevard and 60th Road. This fire gutted three floors, at least. The man is in his mid-twenties, and his name is Kareem Jamel Walters, a resident of a group home on 58th Avenue in Middle Village.
The investigators had requested a blanket of silence on the progress of the investigation. But, residents of the upper northeast sector of the 104th precinct did want to know if authorities were doing something.
The short answer is that the appropriate people were fully on the case.
What had been happening was that, for approximately three months, a number of fires were started in parts of Middle Village and Maspeth. The Fire Department ‒ Thank you, Elmhurst Eagles & Maspeth Mutts! ‒ responded every time within moments. Police and ambulances arrived immediately.
In early January, a dangerous fire was started that put a family with an infant in severe danger. As we onlookers were watching that particular fire, we started comparing notes. Each onlooker lives near a few of the fires, so knew of only those fires. As we discussed the fires, we all became aware that the number of fires was suspiciously high, the location and nature of the fires was suspicious and that probably all the fires were the result of arson.
With those numbers and locations in mind, we contacted the police in the 104th to notify them of our suspicions and insist on heightened presence. We then contacted other authorities. The good news is that all the authorities who should be aware of these fires are, indeed, aware, and are doing what must be done.
On the evening of Monday, January 15th, another fire was started that caused injury to a firefighter and pretty much destroyed a multi-family residence. One resident, an elderly woman, was lucky to escape, she told me. [Late information from the FDNY Press Office is that the injured Lieutenant received seven stitches and is now doing well!]
And now a personal note. About thirteen years ago, a few days before the Fourth of July, some youngsters were shooting bottle rockets from the street. Sure enough, one stray rocket landed in the rain gutter of the wood frame house next door ‒ about eight feet distance from my wood frame home. There was a stack of dried leaves in the gutter, the leaves caught fire, then spread to the electric lines from the street. That house was gutted, and flames shot over to my house, setting it afire while my 5-year-old daughter and I were watching TV (actually, I was asleep). Just as my daughter woke me to say the TV and all lights had just gone out, a heroic neighbor kicked in my back door, shouting fire!. He took my daughter away to another kind neighbor who watched over her.
The Elmhurst Eagles arrived and prevented the destruction of my home. All the neighbors were terrific.
As great as the Elmhurst Eagles were and still are, and as heroic and terrific as so many of my neighbors were and still are, I would prefer to have never experienced being in a fire. To this day, certain sounds and odors can make my skin crawl in memory of the nightmare.
Several months ago, a neighbor, in her home for just about two years, lost her Mom in a house fire. When she had to witness one of the recent fires, the memories of the loss of her Mom came back and she is now in dread fear of the random arson fires in this neighborhood.
Let's help ourselves by helping the NYPD and FDNY to investigate and finally put all arsonists out of civilized society.
USE 911 and USE COMMON SENSE!
Even terrible, frightening fires such as these have unintended good consequences. One good consequence is that the neighbors stood together to help the victims and provide some useful information to investigators. Neighbors also united to attend the recent COP104 Meeting to discuss their concerns to the police, and to request increased patrolling.
Well, the neighborhood was already well saturated with various undercover investigators and visible patrols. One benefit from that: On Thursday night, January 18th, Officers from the 104th precinct nailed two teen graffiti vandals (in the act, we understand). That must have been a surprise to the punks. Congratulations to the Officers from the 104!
What we also found out from this ordeal is that the Police and FDNY as well as EMS are there for us, no matter what the weather or temperature. NYPD and FDNY work together and look how quickly this arson was resolved! Here's a probably incomplete list of the units investigating these fires: FDNY Fire Marshal's Bureau of Fire Investigations, the FDNY Arson Unit, NYPD 104th Precinct plus the NYPD Bomb and Explosives Unit. There are probably others, when we learn who, we'll tell you. Coming to each fire were FDNY firefighters, EMS and Police. We Maspethians and Middle Villagers who were aware of the fires were not aware of how seriously the NYPD and FDNY took the problem. Congratulations to all the members ‒ sung and unsung!