Prosecutors in Northfield, Minnesota have charged a 46 year-old assisted-living facility resident with arson after he allegedly set fire to clothing in his closet, displacing forty other residents for several days. William Jerald Kelly reportedly came forward to admit he started the fire. The criminal complaint, filed in Rice County District Court in late February, says that Ryan claimed he started the fire because he was “tired of people being mistreated and being bullied.” He allegedly told an officer after the fire that he did not tell anyone of his concerns because “it wouldn’t have done any good.” Police put Kelly on a psychological hold the day after the fire and sent him to a local hospital for evaluation. The Northfield Deputy Police Chief told the media that Kelly “likely has a mental disability.” He is scheduled for his first court appearance on April 3. The felony arson charge carries a penalty of up to twenty years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
The fire occurred on Sunday, February 5, 2012 at about 7:30 p.m. in Kelly’s apartment. The evacuation reportedly began during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. Fire crews evacuated all of the residents and contained the fire to the one unit. The rest of the facility suffered smoke damage, however, so residents were not able to return immediately. Fortunately, no one was injured, and the residents were able to return to the facility within a few days.
Residents were evacuated to several locations, including nearby hospitals and a Red Cross shelter. They first went to a church across the street from the facility, where emergency responders picked them up. All residents were accounted for within minutes of the evacuation.
Police almost immediately suspected that the fire was set intentionally. Kelly reportedly approached police soon after the evacuation to admit his role in starting it. The criminal complaint says that he told police he set fire to some of his clothes in his closet. He then triggered the fire alarm, locked the door to his bedroom, and went out an entrance door and into the parking lot. Kelly reportedly told police he did not intend to hurt anyone.