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Rocky Mountain News (CO) – Saturday, July 31, 2004
Author/Byline: Sarah Langbein And Clayton Woullard , Rocky Mountain News
Hector Gutierrez contributed to this report.
Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: 3A
An 11-year-old neighborhood boy has confessed to torching three low-income homes, easing fears that more houses would be targeted, police said Friday.

The boy, who lives just blocks from the crime scenes and whose parents say is obsessed with fire, was arrested Thursday night. He’s being held at a juvenile detention facility.

Police wouldn’t release his name but said he’s been a “person of interest” since early in the investigation because he’s had previous contacts with officers. They wouldn’t say what the nature of those contacts were.

Rudy Solorio, who saw the boy walking from the site of the second fire, said he identified the boy through a photo lineup.

His parents told News 4 the boy was alone with officers when he allegedly confessed to the fires and described how they were started. Police, however, say his parents were present during the interview.

Graciela Jimenez, 40, a neighbor, said the boy was a little troublesome, but that her family had not experienced problems with him before.

Her husband, Roberto Jimenez, 56, said the child didn’t have many friends and that he was surprised the boy would do something like set houses on fire.

“I couldn’t believe it because most of the time I see him with his mama,” Roberto Jimenez said.

The youngster apparently sneaked out of his parents’ home on July 12, 15 and 17, and used flammable liquids to set fires at two Habitat for Humanity homes and a third being built by Greeley Urban Renewal, authorities said.

“We can feel very confident we have the right person,” Sgt. Joe Tymkowych said.

A victim of derision

“An undercover cop came and got him,” 11-year-old neighbor Manuel de la Cruz said.

The accused boy suffers from a mental disability and attends special education classes at Billie Martinez, a nearby elementary school, his parents and neighbors said.

“Kids try to make fun of him all of the time, but his teacher found out about it” and tried to stop the bullying, Manuel said.

Residents say the boy also was responsible for setting fire to a shed and breaking windows.

George Romero suspects the youngster broke a window in his gray Mazda around the time another neighbor accused him of a similar crime.

“Our neighbor told us he broke their window and had to pay for it, and that’s why we think he broke ours, too,” he said.

Identified by eyewitness

It was July 15 that Solorio, 32, noticed a boy wandering near his home about 5:45 a.m. Solorio, a plumber, was preparing to go to work when he heard his dog barking outside.

He said he looked out his backroom window and saw a boy snooping behind a house with a cardboard box sitting nearby. The child then picked up the box and went inside a neighboring vacant home at 220 17th Ave.

After a few moments, the boy casually walked out of the house and left. Solorio said he saw a small flicker inside a room of the home. About 15 minutes later, the boy returned, this time with a small black-and-white dog, and looked through a window where Solorio had seen the flashes.

Solorio said he didn’t notice anything else and headed to work.

“I said, ‘That kid’s got to live somewhere around here if he can come back 10 to 15 minutes later,’ ” Solorio recalled.

On Thursday, Solorio picked the youngster out of six others in a photo lineup.

The Weld County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case and trying to determine whether the boy will be charged as a juvenile or adult.

“It’s like a puzzle, and you have to put the right pieces together,” District Attorney Al Dominguez said of the decision. Charges likely will be filed Wednesday.

A sigh of relief

The boy’s arrest put to rest worries that low-income housing projects were being targeted by an arsonist.

On Friday, volunteers surrounded by TV news crews began rebuilding the homes for the families of Valerie Hernandez and Tomas Landin. With the help of community members and local contractors, the homes shouldn’t be too far behind schedule, they said.

Hernandez was saddened by the discovery that a boy, the same age as her daughter, could have committed this crime.

“I can’t imagine my daughter doing something like this,” she said. “How do you punish a child for a something like this? It’s a shame.”

Memo: or 303-892-2536
Banner p.1A – Habitat fires lead to boy, 11 / Police say child confessed; homeowners relieved.

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