They are calling it an attack upon a sworn law enforcement officer. Now, the reward has jumped to $23,000 to find and prosecute the arsonist who has hit twice in southwest Atlanta.
A contingent of dozens of Atlanta public safety personnel gathered Tuesday afternoon on the block where it happened as the reward increase was announced, sending a clear message of the importance of the crimes.
The arsonist was brazen, attacking in mid-afternoon both times. Atlanta Police say the first fire was set at a house in the 300 block of Betsy Avenue, on January 15, 2019. The second Betsy Avenue blaze came months later--June 26. The latter was at the home of an Atlanta Police officer who was just moving into the neighborhood.
"We believe she was an actual target," says Atlanta Police Maj. Michael O'Connor, who calls the crime particularly egregious. The motive for the first one is unknown. No one was injured in either fire.
Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Cara Convery says their office contributed $10,000 toward the increased reward fund.
"We have evidence and reason to believe this was the targeting of an Atlanta Police officer," said Convery. She did not detail how investigators knew the officer had been singled out.
"If you're being targeted for your job, that's a pretty serious situation," says O'Connor. "It's dangerous enough being an Atlanta Police officer that your home should be your sanctuary. If that's not going to be the case, then we're going to take a stand like this to try and make sure that we can catch the people responsible."
Investigators would not reveal what accelerant was used in either fire, or whether it or the method used was the same in both fires, saying it is "still under investigation."
Neighbors and visitors of Betsy Avenue were surprised to hear that two house fires in six months were arsons. Bertha Pearson, who was visiting her aunt, called it "great" when she learned that the reward was at $23,000.
"Oooh, I wish I knew who it was because I would turn them in," says Pearson. "Maybe somebody will come forward and tell."
Pearson likened the criminal to the sliders who frequent gas stations, stealing cars and belongings.
"They don't care about anybody," she said.
John Flint was in the neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon, checking up on a relative. He was stunned to learn that an arsonist had targeted a member of law enforcement.
"That's really sad right there," says Flint. "Police are out here to serve and protect the people, and then you got somebody to go do something like that, that's really ugly and dangerous."
Flint says Betsy Avenue is pretty quiet, without problems, but admits the news of the arson makes him more concerned for his elderly relative.
The neighborhood, he says, has always been peaceful and quiet.
"It makes you feel that you're not safe in your own neighborhood," says Flint.
"The guts that this person may have--it's very unfortunate that they would try to do this to one of the members of our public safety. I know we take it very personally," says Atlanta Fire Rescue Sgt. Cortez Stafford.
Tipsters can call Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404.577.TIPS (8477) and leave their information anonymously.