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Long Beach arson suspect arrested

April 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Investigators have a suspect in a series of arson fires in the Long Beach area. Someone has been torching cars, trash cans and garages.

Investigators held a news conference Wednesday with the latest on the suspect. Police believe they have the serial arson suspect in custody. They feared that he was getting more aggressive.

There were at least 19 small fires since Friday, all believed started by the same person.

The suspect, Long Beach resident Joshua Thomas, 25, is believed to also have burglarized two homes. In one incident he allegedly set a bed on fire by dropping flaming papers into a bedroom through a window. There was a women sleeping in the bed at the time. In another incident there was a couple with children.

The arsonist allegedly left notes to the police in most of the incidents and signed them "Delna the Arsonist." Investigators now say that "Delna" is a childhood friend of the suspect.

"It appeared to us that this guy was basically taunting the police or whoever was looking for him and it's maybe hard to see that with the camera," said Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. "But basically he says using the name of 'Delna, he strikes again, 11th fire set in 72 hours,' and then he puts the date on it. So certainly keeping his own log at the scene of one of these incidents. And basically saying 'Catch me if you can.'"

"One of the reasons we are very concerned about this arsonist is that the notion of starting at a trash fire and then moving almost immediately within a couple days into occupied residences," said Long Beach Fire Dept. Chief Alan Patalano. "So that is something we see with arsonists: Before you catch them they tend to escalate. And as they escalate, then the fires tend to get worse."

It was the work of two officers who recognized his unusual walk, as that was the way he was described by police, an unusual walk from some surveillance video, and from a sketch.

Thomas was arrested Wednesday morning. He reportedly admitted to the crimes and was expected to be arraigned on Friday for arson and attempted murder. He was held on $1.5 million bail.