Cross Burning Followed by Suspicious House Fire

Cross Burning Followed by Suspicious House Fire

Two suspicious fires leave a woman and her young children homeless. And hate may have fueled the flames. Both fires happened this week in Donaldson. The latest fire was just Thursday night.
Arkansas State Police are investigating a house fire as arson. It’s also the same location as a weekend cross burning. The home burned down early Friday morning in Donaldson in Hot Spring County.

The woman who lived in the home said she had only been in the house about a week when someone set a cross on fire in her yard. That was last Saturday. Now she has virtually nothing.

Loretta Shirah, 24, is white. But her 3 boys are mixed race, Caucasian and African American. She started moving her things out the Monday after the cross burning. But most of her property was in the house when it burned early this morning.

"They're setting houses on fire because my kids are bi-racial," Shirah said.

Shirah says she wouldn't be surprised if the same people who burned the cross in her yard burned down her house this morning. The FBI, Arkansas State Police, and Hot Spring County Sheriff's office still aren't sure they spent the day investigating whether this fire was set on purpose and if it's connected to the Saturday cross burning.

"I've never even thought that I would have this problem. It's 2008, and they're still burning crosses and houses," Shirah said.

Hot Spring County Sheriff's officials arrested a 19 year old whose name is being with-held. He’s charged with aggravated assault and terroristic threatening after the cross incident. But he was out of jail by the time the home burned down this morning.

“He has been interview and claims to have been someplace else, claims he couldn't have done it,” said Scott Clark with the Arkansas State Police.

"I didn't think that here in the town of Donaldson that we'd have to worry about anything like that because a lot of people come here to get away from things like sirens and city life, but I guess you don't know anymore," said neighbor Laura Adams

The intense fires haven't just impacted people emotionally but physically as well. The leaves on a nearby tree are singed on the side closed to the home, and at the home next door, the siding is almost completely melted off.

Loretta and her boys moved in with relatives Monday so they weren't caught up in the fire. But now they have to deal with the aftermath.

"I have to live with my mama, and start all over again, start from scratch," she said.

We are told it could be 3 or 4 weeks before Arkansas State Police will get test results back to find out if this fire was intentionally set. As for other people of interest in the cross burning investigation, state police say it's very likely.

In fact, Ms. Shirah said she saw more than one person outside her home Saturday night. But the FBI is leading that portion of the investigation and they haven't released any information.
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