He did not go back. "I guess whatever we did didn't suit him," Small said. "He was in and out in a day and was never seen again."
Faith Kern, a former teacher who does therapeutic foster care, said Speed lived at her home for about six months when he was 19, until he finished high school in June 2003. She said Speed was referred to her by Alternatives for Youth and Families, an outpatient mental health clinic for people ages 5 to 22. Kerns said Speed had a troubled life as a youngster, but she declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality rules.
Aaron Speed, 21, being escorted out of the Charles County Sheriff's office in La Plata, Md., by a law enforcement official. Speed was charged with arson in fires Dec. 6 that caused $10 million in damages to homes in Indian Head, Md.
(Chris Gardner - AP)
Md. Arson: Ten homes were destroyed and 16 damaged, resulting in an estimated $10 million in destruction to the new subdivision.
Charles County Fires
_____More From The Post_____
U.S. Prosecution Is Likely for Md. Mass Arson Case (The Washington Post, Dec 16, 2004)
Ecology Terrorism Doubted In Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 15, 2004)
Intensive Legwork Begins in Md. Arson (The Washington Post, Dec 12, 2004)
11 More Houses Were Targeted In Md. Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 9, 2004)
At Site of Mass Md. Arson, Families Wait and Worry (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
No Motive Found in Charles Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Arson Brings Battle Over Bog to Surface (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Developer Plans to Rebuild Houses (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Arson Turns A Dream Into Dread (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Kern said Speed visited her in February. "He brought the [twins] to see me," Kern said. The boys were a month old at the time and "were beautiful," she said. "He seemed to be a good daddy and a very proud dad. I thought he was making it. I was really proud of him."
Two months later, one of the twins died. Kern said that she saw Speed again at Thanksgiving and that he made some odd statements. "He said he was with the Marines in Fallujah and had really been disturbed with what he had seen," Kern said. "That might not have been true."
Even before the arrest, there were indications that Speed had become a focus of the investigation. Wednesday night, federal authorities searched Speed's home, and his mother-in-law said agents also seized his car, searched it and then returned it.
"They tested his work pants and they returned those, too," Jaillet said.
One of Speed's neighbors, Stephanie Carpenter, 14, said she saw agents remove a large container from a shed in his back yard. She said an agent moved the container across the street and used gloves to take off the top. "He looked inside and jiggled it a little bit and said, 'It's liquid,' " Stephanie recalled.
It was unclear yesterday what was in the container. Sources said this week that two types of flammable cleaning solvent were used to start the fires.
Carpenter's grandmother, Sharon Woelfl, 53, said Speed doted on his surviving son, once bringing a playpen onto the lawn so he could keep an eye on the child while he washed his car. "He seemed to have calmed down from his teenage years," said Woelfl, who has known him for several years. "He seemed more responsible."
Another neighbor, John C. Heizmann, said the arrest surprised him. "I seriously would doubt he would do this," Heizmann said of Speed. "He wanted to be a police officer."
Developers plan to build 319 homes at Hunters Brooke, which has been the focus of dispute between environmentalists and regulators who approved the subdivision. Many of the people who have settled there, or plan to, are African American. For those reasons, investigators initially considered theories of eco-terrorism and racism.
Besides destroying or damaging 26 unoccupied houses, whoever set the fires tried to ignite 10 other empty houses, which did not burn, authorities said.
The fires broke out shortly before 5 a.m. Dec. 6. The next day, in an interview with The Washington Post, Speed said he arrived at the subdivision at 3:30 a.m. to check on a guard who was on duty there. Speed said the guard told him after the fires that he had left his post at 4:30 a.m., about 30 minutes before the end of his shift and before the fires started.
Speed spoke as if he had supervisory authority at the company, saying the guard who supposedly had left early was "at risk for being a suspect in this case right now."
"At this point," Speed said, "we are still deciding on what type of a disciplinary action we are going to take on him."
Staff writers Amit R. Paley, Joshua Partlow and Arthur Santana and Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.