Leader Of Maryland Arson Ring Says He Always Had A Fascination With Fire

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) -- Federal prosecutors said Thursday they had the core group of six suspects behind the $10 million arson spree at a suburban Washington housing development, including the leader who planned the crime and had a ``fascination with fire.''

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger said at a hearing that Patrick Walsh, 21, was the instigator of the plot and the leader of a tightly organized group of young men who referred to themselves as The Family and set the fires to make a statement.

``He had this fascination with fire and he focused on the Hunters Brooke development as the place where he wanted to make this statement,'' Sanger said. ``He is the one who settled on the means, the method and the target.''

Magistrate Judge Charles Day ordered Walsh held without bail. But he said Roy T. McCann Jr., 22, should be released on home detention at his mother's house. McCann's attorney, Joshua Treem, said it was unclear when that would occur because authorities have to set up the home monitoring system.

Six young men have been charged in the Dec. 6 string of fires that destroyed 10 houses and damaged 16 others at the Hunters Brooke community, an upscale development under construction. Authorities have interviewed or plan to question several more people in connection with the fires.

The suspects were members of a group called the Unseen Cavaliers, also known as ``The Family,'' prosecutors have said. The group had a common interest in street racing and Chevy Cavalier cars, according to authorities.

No single motive has been established, but prosecutors and court records indicate a variety of possibilities, including a quest for notoriety for The Family, revenge and race.

Sanger said Walsh may have been responsible for other fires, including one set in a field in Prince George's County. She said he had a background in pyrotechnics but did not elaborate.

William Purpura, Walsh's attorney, said his client worked a summer job at Six Flags Amusement Park, but added: ``He has absolutely no expertise in pyrotechnics.''

Purpura also said there was no such thing as The Family. He said Walsh was part of a group of friends with a shared interest in cars.

Sanger said McCann knew of the fires in advance and drove to Hunters Brooke to take part in the arson. But Treem said that account was based only on statements from one other witness, and that no other evidence placed him at the scene. McCann only watched the fires, Treem said.

``Mr. McCann has been swept up in this,'' the attorney said.

Day agreed that McCann's role in the fires is unclear and ordered him released while he awaits trial.

Prosecutors also obtained eight search warrants Wednesday that were placed under seal. According to court records, authorities sought to search computers, cell phones and homes of some of the suspects. Purpura said the Fort Washington home of Walsh's parents was searched Wednesday night.

The search warrant applications lists items that include materials used for fires, financial records and computer records. Investigators also said they would search for any evidence that the suspects were associated with racist groups.

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