ATLANTA, Texas — A man suspected of being homeless slept on a bench early Thursday outside the Atlanta Police Department shortly before walking downtown and allegedly starting a fire that destroyed and damaged businesses, an official said.
Bobby Ray Denton, 18, was arrested on a charge of criminal mischief equal to or more than $300,000 — a first-degree felony — and remains incarcerated at the Cass County Jail, said Cass County District Attorney Courtney Shelton.
The warrant for his arrest was obtained by the Atlanta Police Department on Friday.
Thursday's blaze destroyed two businesses and damaged two others in downtown Atlanta.
The fire department was dispatched at 8:34 a.m. Thursday to a fire at East Texas Tumblers, located at 114 E. Hiram St.
Denton was asleep on the bench outside the town's police department from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Thursday, according to a news release read by Shelton at Monday's press conference.
"Around 7 a.m., Denton left the police department and headed south towards Hiram Street. Surveillance video places Denton in the downtown area, alone, around 7:30 a.m.," according to the news release Shelton read.
Shelton said Denton is suspected of being homeless and "there is no indication of incompetence or insanity" on the suspect's part.
Shelton read, "a witness had come forward who had been with Denton in the early morning hours before the fire. The witness verified that he and Denton had been in the alleyway next to East Texas Tumblers and had pushed the side door open. Denton told him they could go inside, but the witness walked away. Surveillance videos confirm the witness' account of the time and their whereabouts."
Shelton then said the witness told investigators that Denton told him there were other vacant buildings in the area where they could go set fires to stay warm.
Shelton said Denton was not involved in the September 25 fire that destroyed a church.
"We can confirm that Denton was not in town at that time," she said.
Business owner Becky McClure's gym, East Texas Tumblers, is a total loss after Thursday's fire. She attended Monday's press conference to get more information.
"I've been in that building for 18 years. I am so sad," she said.
McClure and her husband, Matt, the head coach at Atlanta High School, had used the back of the building for personal storage and the fire destroyed many sentimental items, including their wedding pictures and a collection of Olympic memorabilia.
In an ironic twist, Becky had quickly run in the building before 8 a.m. Thursday to put a $500 cash deposit from a customer on the counter.
"Next thing I know, it's 8:30 and Matt is calling me to tell me the building is on fire," she said.
That evening, when Becky returned to town to see how much damage was done, she pulled through the pocket park across from the State Theatre.
She reports she saw the man who was later taken into custody.
"I saw him there, against the wall, holding his head," she recalled. "I had seen officers talking to him earlier."
"We do have insurance, and I even have land we can build on, but I really don't know what we will do," Becky said. "Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we will have a temporary plan to start cheer lessons again. I'll be staying in touch with my customers."
This Saturday, a bake sale will be held at Price Hardware on Williams Street in Atlanta to benefit her gym, East Texas Tumblers. Outlaw BBQ will be there and will donate a percentage of the proceeds to the gym.
Atlanta Mayor Travis Ransom was on hand at Monday's press conference to express appreciation to the many agencies that helped in the extinguishing of the blaze and investigation.
"I am proud to serve a community that rallies around our businesses and each other in times of need," he said.