- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

Arson investigators said yesterday they cannot match the fingerprints of a man held on unrelated charges to the 35 fires in the Washington area tied to a serial arsonist.

Noel Gibson, 33, of Riverdale, appeared yesterday under guard in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on federal charges of lying to federal investigators when asked whether he posed as a fire official in a Lanham elementary school on March 29. The charges are unrelated to the arsons.

The tall, slender Gibson was returned to the Prince George’s County jail in Upper Marlboro after Judge William Connelly determined he would not be released on bail and would return for another hearing at 3 p.m. April 15.

Public defender Paula Xinic did not object to Gibson remaining in jail because he also faces arrest warrants in Fairfax County related to illegally reducing odometer readings on vehicles for sale.

Gibson has a criminal record dating to at least 1997, when he pleaded guilty to a third-degree sex-offense charge involving a 15-year-old girl. He was sentenced to three years in jail with all but one day suspended and two years’ probation, according to Prince George’s Circuit Court records.

Gibson was arrested last week after witnesses identified him as the man who walked into Magnolia Elementary School in Lanham and asked for personnel information, saying he was a fire investigator. Witnesses identified the white Volvo with stolen plates that he was driving.

The area Arson Task Force immediately considered him a suspect in the 35 arsons because he resembled a sketch drawn from descriptions of witnesses at some of the fires.

During yesterday’s court appearance, he responded in a strong, low voice, “Yes sir, your honor,” when Judge Connelly asked whether he was ready to proceed.

The arsons started two years ago — with 18 of them in the District, 14 in Prince George’s County and one each in Montgomery, Alexandria and Fairfax counties.

The task force has conclusively linked 15 fires and said the others are “similar in nature.”

A June 5 fire in the 4900 block of Evarts Street NE killed an 86-year-old woman, the only fatality thus far in the serial cases.

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