A Florida man has been charged with first-degree arson after authorities say he set his girlfriend’ house on fire, then tried to pin the blame on a “random Black guy.”
Jose Bernando Rosas Madrigal, 19, was arrested Dec. 2, after setting fire to his girlfriend’s home while she and her family were inside, local station WFLA reported. Investigators said the front of the home, specifically his girlfriend’s room was doused with flammable liquids, as were the family’s yard, vehicles and a canoe.
Madrigal even used the liquid fuel to draw a heart-shaped symbol outside his girlfriend’s bedroom, police said.
The blaze broke out just days after cell phone records showed the young man Googled ways “to burn a brick house down,” and sent several threatening messages to the girl via text and Snapchat.
“He planned this in advance. He Googled how to burn the house, he mixed the combination and poof he set it on fire,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told WFLA. “And poof we put him in jail. It is by the grace of God that we don’t have three people burned up in a house fire.”
When questioned by investigators, Madrigal said he was at his mother’s house 25 minutes away in Auburnadale, Fla. when the blaze erupted. But neighbor’s surveillance footage told a different story. Authorities said the video shows Madrigal’s truck pull up to the house just moments before the family called 911.
After learning of the footage, the young man reportedly told investigators he’d driven past the house a few times to check on his lady after they had a spat earlier in the day. He said the third time he passed by, he noticed a fire burning in the front yard. Madrigal told police he was unsure what to do, so he left. He later switched his story, however, telling the cops he saw a “random Black guy” set the fire and flee the scene, according to an affidavit.
Authorities searched Madrigal’s phone records to find Google searches made before the fire, including “can you start charcoal with gasoline house on fire,” and “x outside of the house to burn up a house.” The young man was charged with three counts of attempted first-degree homicide, first-degree arson and possession of liquor by a person under 21 after police found a half bottle of Vodka in his truck.
“I thank God because God was on our side,” James Scott, the girlfriend’s father, told The Daily Beast. “If it would have gone 5 or 10 more minutes, the car would’ve blown up. My house would have been on fire. He could have killed us.”
Neighbor Margaret Elkins came out of her home as other neighbors helped extinguish the flames.
“There was liquid everywhere,” Elkins told WFLA, noting that Madrigal had returned to the scene minutes later. That’s when she said the teen said something strange to her.
“He was standing beside me, and he said, ‘usually the one that does it comes back to see what all the excitement is about,’ ” she said.
Madrigal, who told police he was aware that his girlfriend and her family were at home when he set the blaze, was just 5 months away from graduating high school.