Race Possible Motive for Maryland Fires

Racial animosity and revenge are among the possible motives in the fires that caused $10 million in damage in Maryland's (search) largest residential arson case, a spokesman for federal investigators said Sunday.

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

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

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

The federal 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 about 30 miles south of Washington.

Another suspect, Aaron Speed (search), told investigators he was upset his employer did not show enough sympathy after his infant son died this year, according to court documents.

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

"Two typical motives for arson are revenge and race," Campbell said. "It's something investigators are looking at."

None of the suspects has been charged with a hate crime.

On Saturday, officials arrested three of the men — Parady, Patrick Stephen Walsh and Michael McIntosh Everhart, all 20. They were to appear Monday before a U.S. magistrate judge in Greenbelt. Speed, 21, who worked for a security company hired to guard the development, is being held until a hearing Tuesday.

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

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

Derrick Potts, who is black and lives with his girlfriend and children in the only occupied house in the section of Hunters Brooke that burned, said he doubts race was the prime motive.

His family has been warmly received by the Indian Head community following the fires, and Potts has not sensed any racial animosity. "I've never looked at this area as having racial problems," he said.

Potts' home suffered little damage and the family was able to return home last week.

Another homeowner, Jacque Hightower, said he has never seen any open racial hostility in the fast-growing region south of Washington.

"Charles County is one of the only places in the [Washington] D.C. metro area that seemed friendly to us," he said.

Several shoppers at a grocery store in Accokeek, just north of Indian Head, also said there was little racial tension in the area.

But Janaire Anderson, of Clinton, said that doesn't mean it wasn't a motive in the fires. "I think race is a factor in everything we do," she said.

Parady was a "riding member" with the Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department, which meant he could ride with fire crews but not actively engage in firefighting, Fire Department President Wayne Jordan told The Washington Post.

Jordan said Parady was not on duty the morning of the arsons and was not involved in responding to the fires. Mary Black, Parady's fiancee, told the Post that Parady was home with her the morning the fires were set.

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, members said.