2 Arrests in Devastating Pa. House Fires

String of 23 arsons have left the town of Coatesville, Pa. in perpetual fear.

February 19, 2009, 11:41 AM

Feb. 19, 2009— -- Police have announced a second arrest related to the string of arsons plaguing the Coatesville, Pa. area since January, leaving homes in ruin and a community in perpetual fear.

Mark Gilliam, 20, of West Chester, Pa. was arrested Thursday on a federal charge for the Jan. 25, 2009 attempted arson of the Happy Days Family Bistro, according to a press release from the Chester County Arson Task Force.

A day earlier, police arrested 19-year-old Roger Leon Barlow Jr. Barlow is facing arson and related charges for nine of 23 fires set in the area so far this year. An affidavit filed in the case lists details of the fires and states that Coatesville Police Department Det. Kevin Campbell interviewed Barlow, "who admitted setting the above fires intentionally."

"Our extensive experience and expertise with these investigations tells us that many arsonists are seeking a thrill, have revenge and sometimes hate," U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives special agent in charge Mark Potter said today at a news conference in Coatesville.

"But without commenting specifically today on the motives of this case, I have to say that Roger Barlow, the defendant in this case that's been charged, his dangerous and risky behavior for the past 48 days, and maybe longer, has now been stopped."

Authorities had earlier described Barlow to ABC News as "distraught" because of recent personal issues, possibly a death in the family. Officials suspect that the young man is a "classic pyromaniac," or someone with an impulse to deliberately start fires.

ABC News accessed a MySpace profile found under Barlow's name containing photos that closely resembled a mug shot released by authorities this afternoon. But the site has since been removed.

It prominently featured a box with a moving flame image and contained several images apparently from a high school formal dance and a photo of a pony-tailed Barlow sitting on a weight bench. Under the "About Me" section, Barlow wrote, "I love to work out. I am very shy sometimes and I love to hang out with friends."

Officials said at the news conference that they had brought him in for questioning and arrested him after interviewing him. It was not immediately clear if Barlow, who lives in nearby Downingtown, has retained legal counsel. His bail was set at $9 million.

He is facing charges for nine suspected arsons from Jan. 2 to Feb. 3, the biggest break so far in the investigation into a recent string of suspicious blazes in the area, one of which claimed the life of an elderly woman last year.

Coatesville Plagued by String of Arsons

There have been 18 arsons in the southeast Pennsylvania town of about 10,000 people, as well as five in neighboring communities, since January 2009, and more than 30 fires in the past year alone. The last documented fire occurred Feb. 6, Potter said.

The 18 Coatesville fires, which appeared to have been randomly set, occurred in a 1.5-square-mile area.

The vast majority of the blazes were set between midnight and 6 a.m., as people slept in the city 35 miles west of Philadelphia. Authorities believe the arsonists set fire to items left on porches, and then vanished within seconds.

"These offenses are probably the most serious crime spree that has occurred during the 30 years I've been with the district attorney's office," Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll said.

As for the fires Barlow allegedly set, Carroll said, "[a]t this point, establishing a clear motive for these crimes is not possible."

Although he said he's "confident" that the fires were not gang-related or motivated by hate, he said the investigation of possible motives is ongoing.

"We just want to know why. Why would you want to put people out of their homes?" arson victim Rick Bowman, whose house was destroyed Jan. 24, told ABC News earlier this month. "I think the hardest thing was filling out papers to say we were homeless."

Officials said today that Barlow is a suspect in the fire that destroyed 15 row houses, including Bowman's.

Earlier this month, authorities distributed about 800 motion-sensitive outdoor lights and stepped up patrols as part of a wider effort to thwart the fires.

State and federal investigators have also assisted in the case, providing help with forensics and profiling.

"Political leaders, law enforcement, firefighters, the media and our citizens have banded together against a violent arsonist in our community," Potter said.

'Model Task Force' Investigating Arsons

U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid praised the multi-agency investigation, calling it "a model task force."

"These guys were working 24-7, I know they will continue; these are guys that are living on Ramen noodles from what I could see at their command center," she added. "And it's a testament to their efforts, this was good old-fashioned police work."

Authorities said that the investigation is far from over and that they will continue to pursue leads.

One woman, who was afraid to be identified, told ABC News earlier this month that she and her children were living in "constant fear."

"Me and my kids sleep together every night," she said. "We're afraid."

Investigators hope that the break in the case will give some measure of relief to the sleepless residents of Coatesville.

ABC News' Mike Callahan and Imaeyen Ibanga contributed to this report.

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