Suspicious house fire being investigated; racial slurs spray-painted there previously

By: 
Dave Marner
Managing Editor

A Missouri State Fire Marshal’s investigation is being conducted into a residential structure fire early Saturday which destroyed a rented home south of the county line on Highway 19 in Crawford County.

Four Owensville firemen assisted with extinguishing the blaze which has been termed “suspicious” due to a previously reported incident at the residence where racial epithets and vulgarities had been spray-painted on exterior brick walls.

“It was a total loss when we got there,” said John Dixon with the Owensville Fire Department of their call to assist around 8 a.m. “The southern end had collapsed into the basement. There wasn’t a whole lot left. It was definitely a defensive attack. It’s a shame.”

Crawford County Sheriff’s Department Maj. Adam Carnal issued a statement noting deputies arrived around 6:45 a.m. before firemen and found the residence “fully engulfed, with no one present.”

Crawford’s chief deputy also reported, “Contact was also made with the resident, who advised that his family was out of town at the time of the fire. Currently, the fire is being preliminarily investigated as suspicious due to our office having responded to this same address approximately two weeks prior, for a report of property damage. It was reported that some person(s) unknown to the resident spray painted a racially offensive sentiment on the outside of the residence.”

Along with the racially-charged vulgarities, a swastika appears have been painting in a photograph which accompanies this story which was provided by a member of the Owensville Fire Department.

Cuba Fire Chief Mike Plank told the Cuba Free Press his firemen arrived to find fire showing in the basement, upstairs area and through the roof. Firemen from Bourbon and Owensville also responded. 

Plank believes the fire originated in the basement, but the investigation was turned over to the State Fire Marshal’s Office for further investigation, due to racial epithets that were spray painted on the exterior walls of the home, according to the Free Press’ report. 

“That was the first clue that something was going on,” Plank told the Crawford County publication. “I don’t know if it’s related to the fire or not, but when you see that kind of stuff on a house, you have to get to the bottom of it and you’ve got to have the State Fire Marshal’s Office start an investigation.”

Crawford sheriff’s staff and Rodger Windle with the Fire Marshal’s office are continuing the investigation. Anyone who may have information about the fire or the spray-painting vandalism is asked to call Windle at 573-775-2125.

Plank told the Free Press that authorities are “still talking to people and trying to figure out what’s going on with the graffiti. It may or may not be related to the fire. We’re comfortable in believing that the fire started in the basement, but you can’t rule out electrical as a cause at this point.”

He told the newspaper there was “no indication at this point that somebody went inside the house and poured gasoline” or “no other clear evidence of it being a crime scene.”

The man who rents the residence and resides there with his son is reported to have told a St. Louis television station he did not feel the graffiti painted on his home was connected with the fire.

“It’s some moron with a paint can,” according to the Free Press report this week. “It’s got nothing to do with who actually lives here.”

Social media accounts about the incident suggested there was a bullying issue in an Owensville school the young man attends prior to the fire.

“We don’t have any reports of bullying but we are working with the family through our GCR2 Cares Facebook page where there are some needs,” said R-2 Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner.

Garner said he’s seen photographs of the graffiti. “What was on that house is unacceptable,” said Garner. Community support for the family has been strong, Garner said.

“There’s been a tremendous response from the community,” he said. “People are stepping up to help the family.”