Emond Johnson has admitted to setting a fire in May that left one firefighter dead and two others injured, a fact that has left people who work in the Ingram Square strip mall dumbfounded.
The pain left after the massive blaze took firefighter Scott Deem’s life is even more excruciating now that it’s been labeled arson.
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“I was pretty sad. More so upset, you know, especially now that I know that was something that was caused intentionally,” said Matthew Coronado, who witnessed the fire.
Coronado works at the Milan Institute, which is at the end of the strip where the fire started.
“I looked toward the shopping strip and there was smoke starting to come up, and after I saw that, I evacuated all the students,” he said. “It was rising really fast. It was coming from the gym.”
Coronado has seen Johnson, Spartan Box Gym co-owner, several times. One of them was the night of the fire.
“I couldn't tell he would have done something like that. He just seemed as surprised as everyone else,” Coronado said.
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Little did he know, an arrest affidavit would later show Johnson admitted to starting the fire with a lighter.
All of the businesses in the same strip as the gym have been destroyed and are still closed, except for the Milan Institute. The owners have lost their livelihood after the blaze.
“I see people coming in and out, doing the construction, coming around and rebuilding,” Coronado said.
He said nothing could bring back what investigators said Johnson took away that night.
“How could someone do something like that?” Coronado said.
Two people were seen Wednesday near the area where the fire started, grinding down some poles. A lot of work has been done since the May fire, but it’s clear there's still much more to do.