A woman told police that a Pittsburgh boarding house was "filled with demons" before she set it on fire, killing the owner and two other residents, according to a criminal complaint.
But police also say the suspect, Latoya Lyerly, also told investigators she had argued about the volume of a radio the night before Wednesday's fire, and that she had threatened burn down the house.
Lyerly, 42, remained jailed Thursday on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated arson, arson, and causing or risking a catastrophe.
Lyerly told police she'd been living at the house for three weeks after getting kicked out of a YMCA in McKeesport. She said the owner paid her to cook and clean for him since she had no money, and that they quarreled as she cooked spaghetti and hamburgers on Tuesday evening.
Lyerly told police she argued with the home's owner over the volume of her radio. The argument became "very heated and at one point during the argument Lyerly stated that she told (the owner) she was going to burn the (expletive) house down."
The home's 73-year-old owner is named as a victim in the criminal complaint, but his name isn't spelled the same as the name of a victim whose identity was still being confirmed Thursday by the Allegheny County medical examiner's office. The other victims, who were residents of the home, are Gerald Johnson, 68, and Calvin Turner, 56. The medical examiner ruled they died of burns and smoke inhalation.
The fire was reported just before 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.
After telling police about the argument over the radio, Lyerly first claimed that she had walked to a market to buy soda and cigarettes sometime after 6 a.m. Wednesday and was hanging out on the corner when someone told her about the fire.
WPXI-TV showed Lyerly crying and collapsing into the arms of emergency responders at the fire scene.
Police said Lyerly eventually changed her story to say that she set the fire accidentally by lighting a cigarette that caught her bed on fire. She told police she got scared and ran out of the house without alerting the other residents or calling 911.
But police contend Lyerly changed her story yet again, this time telling police "the residence she was living at was filled with demons and that everyone inside the residence was involved in drugs and sex," according to the complaint.
But neighbors and former residents described the home as a safe haven, saying its owner often helped out people down on their luck. "He takes care of people, any kind of way," neighbor Peggy Wilson told WPXI.
Sarah Machado, 44, said she was using heroin and crack cocaine before she was taken in by the home's owner three years ago.
"I met him in a grocery store and he gave me $20 for food," Machado told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I was staying in abandoned houses and doing shady stuff and he said, `Girl that is no way to live."'
Lyerly told police she heard people walking in other parts of the residence and "then began hearing voices telling her to carry out her mission." Lyerly told police she set fire to paper coffee strainers and used them to set fire to a chair and then to a couch in her bedroom.
Arson investigators confirmed the fire began in various spots on the first floor of the home, including Lyerly's bedroom -- but they also said dogs sniffed out some kind of unspecified fuel, the complaint said.