Resident charged in fire that killed 3 at shelter BALTIMORE CITY

April 10, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

A woman was charged yesterday with three counts of homicide and arson in last week's fire at a downtown homeless shelter where she was staying, homicide detectives said.

JoEllen Lee Johnson, 33, who had lived since January at My Sister's Place Lodge in the 600 block of Park Ave., was being sought last night as the prime suspect in the burning of the lodge, police said.

Three women died April 3 after someone set a fire inside the shelter while the residents were sleeping.

Police believe Ms. Johnson used a flammable liquid to ignite the blaze, but it is unknown why she allegedly set the building afire.

"That's the first thing we're going to ask her when we find her," said Agent Doug Price, police spokesman.

The news that a former resident is being sought in the case came as a shock to the shelter's staff.

"Suffice it to say that this compounds the tragedy," said Hal Smith, director of Catholic Charities, which oversees the shelter.

"My immediate reaction is one of concern for the women at the lodge, and also for JoEllen. I don't know if anybody can explain this kind of thing. There's just no rational explanation."

Mr. Smith said many of the women in the shelter have some history of mental illness "but we certainly didn't have any idea that anyone was capable of this kind of behavior."

He said several staff members also were upset over Thursday night's shooting of Angelo Garrison Sr., 23, and his 3-year-old son, Angelo Jr., both slain on the street three blocks from the shelter.

The group home where the arson occurred is an adjunct to the Catholic Charities' daytime shelter for homeless women on West Mulberry Street, called My Sister's Place.

The victims were Vibha Kohli, 28, Ethel Paugh, 42, and Barbara Taylor, 46.

Anyone with information about Ms. Johnson's whereabouts is asked to call the city homicide unit at 396-2100.

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