- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

LA PLATA, Md. — Racial animosity and revenge might have been motives in the fires that caused $10 million in damage in Maryland’s largest residential arson case, a spokesman for federal investigators said yesterday.

Four men have been charged with arson at the Hunters Brooke development in Charles County, where fires on Dec. 6 destroyed 10 houses and damaged 16 others. No one was hurt; many of the homes were still under construction.

Michael Campbell, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said investigators are considering revenge and race, along with several other motives.

“Two typical motives for arson are revenge and race,” Mr. Campbell said. “It’s something investigators are looking at.”

A federal law enforcement official speaking on the condition of anonymity said two of the four suspects in custody made racial statements to investigators during questioning.

The suspects are white, and many of the families moving into the development are black.

The official also said that one of the suspects, Jeremy Daniel Parady, was turned down when he tried to get a job with Lennar Corp., the company building the houses in Indian Head.

Officials on Saturday arrested Patrick Stephen Walsh, 20, of Fort Washington; Mr. Parady, 20, of Accokeek; and Michael McIntosh Everhart, 20, of Waldorf. They are expected to appear today before a U.S. magistrate judge in Greenbelt.

A fourth person, Aaron L. Speed, 21, who worked for a security company hired to guard the development, is being held until a hearing scheduled for tomorrow. In statements to investigators, Mr. Speed, of Waldorf, said he was upset that his employer didn’t show enough sympathy after his infant son died this year.

Initially, there was speculation the fires were set by environmental extremists because some environmental groups had complained the houses threatened a nearby bog. However, no evidence has been found to support that theory, police said.

Attention then turned to whether the arsons could have been a hate crime. Although many of the buyers of the half-million-dollar homes were black, Charles County is largely rural and mostly white.

The scale of the arson — the fires broke out almost simultaneously over a 10-acre site — led investigators to believe that more than one person may have been responsible. Authorities think the fires were set using an accelerant and a propane torch.

Mr. Parady reportedly was a “riding member” with the Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department, which meant he could ride with fire crews but not engage in firefighting, according to news reports.

Mr. Speed also apparently had ambitions to become a firefighter. He expressed interest in joining two local volunteer departments about two months ago, but never followed up, department members reportedly said.

• AP writer Foster Klug in Baltimore contributed to this story.

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