An arson suspect is behind bars in Polk County, Florida, after telling police that he spotted a “random black guy” setting fire to his girlfriend’s house on Nov. 24.
Police say Jose Bernando Rosas Madrigal, 19, covered the front of the house with flammable fluid and set it ablaze while his girlfriend and members of her family were inside, according to WFLA. Officials also found fluid sprayed on the family’s yard, vehicles and canoe.
When investigators questioned Madrigal, he said he was at his mother’s house, 25 minutes away, when the fire broke out.
When confronted with surveillance footage showing him driving to the scene, Madrigal said he drove past his girlfriend’s house a few times but denied setting the fire. He blamed the crime on “a random black guy” who he said lit the flame and ran away. Madrigal said he didn’t know what to do, so he left.
Madrigal had previously sent his girlfriend messages via Snapchat threatening to burn her house, detectives said. His phone records show that he had searched “can you start charcoal with gasoline house on fire” and “x outside the house to burn up house.”
Madrigal told police that he searched those phrases to help his brother start the fire. He said once the fire was lit, using oil, gasoline, lighter fluid and a lighter, they fled the scene.
“He planned this in advance. He Googled how to burn the house, he mixed the combination and poof he set it on fire. And poof we put him in jail,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told WFLA. “It’s by the grace of God that we don’t have three people burned up in a house fire.”
Madrigal is being charged with three counts of attempted first-degree homicide, one count of first-degree arson and underaged possession of liquor after cops found vodka in his car.
It’s not unheard of for people to try and blame imaginary black folks for things they did themselves, especially when law enforcement is involved. In March, a man in New York City accidentally shot himself in the stomach and blamed a nonexistent black man before admitting the truth. In November 2016, a man and a woman in Ohio blamed a car crash on a black man they said had been driving them around. According to police, though, surveillance footage showed that there was no black man, and that the man and woman, both attorneys, crashed their own vehicle while they were drunk.