MILPITAS (AP) — A suspected arsonist traveled from Missouri to Northern California to set more than a dozen wildfires before attending his 50th high school reunion, a newspaper reported Saturday.
A former classmate told the San Jose Mercury News that Freddie Owen Graham appeared happy at the party on Sept. 21. Graham, a Milpitas, California-native who has lived in the Kansas City area for the past three decades, didn’t seem troubled or upset, Rich Santoro said.
“He was excited to come. I talked to him five or six times during the night. He was happy he was there. He told me, ‘I didn’t expect to have this much fun.'” Santoro said. “It turns out he had already set the fires.”
State fire investigators said Graham gave them a different impression.
After he was arrested at the airport in San Jose, Graham told them he was in an “emotional” state over the loss of his wife in 2018 when he tossed flaming pieces of paper onto the side of a road.
“Because she passed away and could not be with him, it made him emotional, starting the fires,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection report said.
Santoro recalled Graham lamenting about attending the reunion without his wife.
Graham is being held on $2 million bail on 13 counts of arson. He also faces two special counts of arson during a state of emergency, which was declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom in March ahead of the wildfire season.
Prosecutors said he drove through a foothill area northeast of San Jose and set 13 fires over the course of two days.
Although the fires caused no injuries or structural damage, they took dozens of firefighters using aircraft, bulldozers and other equipment hours to extinguish.
Graham was identified as the suspect after someone saw him, wrote down his rental car’s license plate number and notified firefighters. He was arrested when he was returning a rental car at the airport — his second of the weekend, after reportedly swapping out the one seen by a witness at the fire.