Former volunteer firefighter indicted in arson

October 06, 2006|By Tyrone Richardson and John-John Williams IV | Tyrone Richardson and John-John Williams IV,sun reporters

A former Ellicott City volunteer firefighter has been indicted on arson and other charges in connection with a series of fires over the summer that damaged property but caused no injuries.

Joseph Richard Lee Schroen, 20, of Ellicott City, was arrested Sept. 6 in connection with five fires near his home from June through August, including brush fires and the burning of a shed, a bird feeder and a mailbox. His Oct. 4 indictment was made public yesterday.

Authorities made the arrest while monitoring Schroen's MySpace online account, which featured a stick figure dousing itself with flammable liquid and setting itself on fire, according to a court document.

Schroen, who in April was sentenced by a Carroll County judge to a year's probation after being charged with false imprisonment of his ex-girlfriend, now faces second-degree arson and malicious burning charges. He is being held at the Howard County Detention Center on $1 million bond. A court date has not been set.

Had been suspended

Schroen was a member of the Ellicott City Volunteer Fire Department but had been suspended, according to the charging document. Bill Mould, a spokesman for the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, could not say yesterday how long Schroen was employed and when his suspension started.

Fire investigators interviewed Schroen twice in August. At one point, he admitted setting the fires and said "he wanted to see the firetrucks," according to the court document.

Experts say that arson is not unheard of among volunteer firefighters. In 2001, a 19-year-old former Carroll County volunteer firefighter pleaded guilty to second-degree arson in a fire at a vacant house in Manchester.

In the mid-1990s, after a string of such offenses, the South Carolina Forestry Commission developed a behavioral profile of the firefighter-arsonist, which since has been adopted in 13 states.

According to the profile, the typical firefighter-arsonist is a white male, ages 17 to 26, the product of a harsh or unstable background, of average- to above-average intelligence but fair to poor academic performance. Those fitting the profile are fascinated with the fire service and its trappings, may be employed in low-paying jobs and facing unusual family, financial, or legal stress.

`Felt important'

"A lot of these young men didn't have anything in their lives that made them feel significant other than firefighting," Ken Cabe, information officer for the South Carolina Forestry Commission. "Many of them were underemployed and employed in jobs that held no satisfaction. When they rode in the firetruck they felt important."

Sun reporter Laura McCandlish contributed to this article.

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