Police seek additional suspects following arrest of security guard suspected in Maryland arson

Saturday, December 18th 2004, 11:31 am
By: News On 6

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) _ More people were questioned Saturday in the investigation of the biggest residential arson in Maryland history, in which charges were filed against a security guard who told police he was upset by the way he had been treated by his employer.

Aaron L. Speed, 21, who worked for Security Services of America Inc., came under suspicion after allegedly failing a polygraph and telling investigators he was home in bed when a colleague phoned to tell him of the fires.

Records obtained from his cell phone service showed the call went through a cell phone tower closer to the scene, according to court documents.

The fires caused $10 million in damage in an upscale development. No one was hurt.

Investigators questioned ``several people'' in connection with the case Saturday, said Kelly Long, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, wouldn't say exactly how many people were being questioned or provide any other details. She said there had been no additional arrests.

According to an affidavit, Speed told authorities ``that he was present at the location, along with others with whom he was acquainted, while the fires were being lit.''

``Speed claimed that he knew of the plan by others known to him to set a fire at the location,'' the affidavit continued. ``He also asserted that he told others how to gain access to the site.''

Records released Friday suggest the motive may have been more emotional than political. Speed told investigators he was upset that his employer did not show enough sympathy after his infant son died this year.

Speed had been hired to protect the Hunters Brooke development, where fires Dec. 6 destroyed 10 houses and damaged 16 others. The fires broke out almost simultaneously over a 10-acre site, leading investigators to believe that more than one person may have been responsible.

Early on, there was speculation the fires were set by environmental extremists, because some environmental groups had complained the houses threatened a nearby bog. But no evidence has been found to support that theory, police said.

Speed appeared in court Friday, and U.S. Magistrate William Connelly appointed a public defender to represent him. He is next due in court Tuesday.

The young father told police he left his security job from August to October because of his employer's ``indifference to the death of his infant son,'' according to court papers.

Speed told investigators that his son, one of twins, died in April, when he was about three months old. His wife's stepfather said the baby, Christian A. Speed, died of intestinal complications.

When asked who might have set the Hunters Brooke subdivision ablaze, Speed told police ``Someone who works at the site and recently experienced a great loss,'' according to the documents.

Debbie Leman, a bartender at a tavern frequented by the family, said Speed was devastated by the death of his son.

``He was very depressed,'' said Leman, who works at Hunt's Tavern in Pomfret, where Speed and his in-laws played darts twice a week.

Speed's attorney, John C. Chamble, and his relatives declined Friday to comment at the courthouse. Security Services of America has said only that it is cooperating with authorities.

The security firm is based in North Carolina and has operations in more than 20 states. According to a recent survey in Security Magazine, it had revenue of more than $85 million in 2002 and more than 4,500 full- and part-time workers.