2001 North Shelby arson still yields questions

NORTH SHELBY – It was around 2 a.m. on a rainy autumn night when the North Shelby Fire Department received an alert for a fire at a nearby building. Upon arrival, firefighters found part of the building on fire and evidence that it was the result of an arson. Within the five minutes it took for firefighters to get there, the suspect has already fled.

According to Shelby County Cold Case Squad Investigators Roger Beaupre and Jim Dormuth, the incident took place at the Kinder Care Child Care building located at 1700 Corporate Drive on Sept. 24, 2001.

“Apparently, somebody in the wee hours of the morning threw two grill-style 20-pound propane tanks through windows at each ends of the property and then threw what is believed to be a soda can with a rag in gasoline as an ignition point, a Molotov cocktail” Beaupre said. “The propane tanks were open and leaking when the fire started. One of them ignited.”

Beaupre said the fire caused some damage to the northwest portion of the property and was put out quickly by firefighters.

“The fire department did a good job of responding quickly and knocking the fire down. It only ignited on one end,” Beaupre said. “There was some structural damage, but nothing extensive.”

Upon further investigation, authorities discovered that there were no signs of forced entry into the building and the alarm had come in from ADT as soon as the first window was broken.

Because there was only one ignition point and only one Molotov cocktail, Beaupre said they now believe one person is responsible for the arson. While they still have not identified any suspects, Beaupre and Dormuth said authorities inferred that the arson had been planned, but not well-executed.

“The use of the propane tanks expressed their desire to have a large conflagration or explosion, but they didn’t have the expertise,” Dormuth said. “This was probably not a couple of kids who were out drinking.”

Because there were no reports of stolen propane tanks, investigators believe the perpetrator may have bought them or already owned them.

Beaupre said the motives behind most arsons include vandalism, the concealment of a crime, profit, extremism or excitement, and investigators have not been able to determine a motive in this case.

“They interviewed all the staff to primarily determine if maybe there was an irate parent or someone who had their child expelled from the program. They found nothing,” Beaupre said. “The largest complaint they had in months was that a child came home with a dirty diaper, and that’s not motivation to burn a place down.”

Beaupre said the arson was likely an isolated incident.

“We’re wasn’t a series of fires in Shelby County or throughout Birmingham, in general,” Beaupre said.

So far, Beaupre said the Cold Case Squad has not received any leads on the case. Dormuth said he hopes that time and technology will help the case get resolved.

“With this case, what we’re trying to do is get it back into the public again to see of it might generate some information. Whoever did this has not kept it a secret their whole life. Very few people could keep anything that close to the vest forever,” Dormuth said.

Anyone with information related to the arson is urged to contact the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office by calling 669-4181 or by sending a tip online at Shelbyso.com.