Officials: Texas Governor’s Mansion Fire Politically Motivated

June 18, 2008

Investigators believe someone angry with the government set the fire that severely damaged the Texas Governor’s Mansion on June 8, and they offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

State Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado said previously that investigators did not believe the blaze was politically motivated, but changed course June 16.

“It is likely that feelings of anger may have motivated his crime,” Maldonado said. “He may be known to get angry and express strong opinions about the government, Governor Perry himself, the death penalty, the renovation of the mansion or other political issues.”

Speaking directly to the suspect at a news conference, Maldonado said: “We do feel you had a message, and we would like to hear from you. We’re not quite sure what that message is, but please contact us.”

Maldonado said officials are not yet ready to release video footage of the alleged arsonist, but said investigators believe they are looking for a white male, between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet 1 inch tall, who was wearing a ball cap, a dark shirt, work-type gloves, blue jeans or cargo style pants.

The suspect is probably physically fit because he was able to scale an 8-foot chain-link fence to get onto the mansion grounds, he said.

Investigators have said video footage shows a suspect in the early morning hours of June 8, standing in front of the Governor’s Mansion, igniting an object and throwing it onto the porch, creating a fireball and blaze that ravaged the 152-year old structure.

Department of Public Safety officials have declined to say how many troopers were on guard at the time of the fire, but an attorney who represents the Texas State Troopers Association said there was just one.

“All I can tell you is that it was customary to have two troopers covering that shift,” Austin attorney Don Dickson said. “I don’t really know the reason there was only one there that night.”

Dickson said he also represents a trooper who notified his supervisors “some time ago” that the infrared alarm system at the mansion was malfunctioning. The system is used to alert guards when someone enters the mansion’s perimeter.

“I’m informed that the Texas Facilities Commission removed the system, either to have it repaired or replaced,” Dickson said.

A DPS spokeswoman said the department is conducting an internal investigation but would not discuss security details.

Experts say the historic landmark is salvageable and Gov. Rick Perry has said he’s committed to restoring the mansion no matter the cost. Texas first lady Anita Perry will likely lead the restoration effort, he said last week.

The Perrys had moved out of the mansion last fall for a renovation project estimated to cost $10 million. Antique furniture and other relics had been placed in storage.

In addition to a sprinkler system, the renovation project was to include new plumbing, lead paint abatement and restored windows and shutters. It was to have been completed by next spring.

Inside, paint and wallpaper had been stripped from the interior walls and experts had begun efforts to preserve the home’s ornate crown molding.

Experts said protective coverings that had been in place for the renovation may have spared the house more serious damage.

The two-story Greek Revival style house has been the official home of every Texas governor since it was completed in 1856, including Sam Houston and George W. Bush.

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