The man suspected of burning a $13 million Pullman apartment complex down told police he was drunk and voices in his head told him to start the fire.
Bryan Kitchen, 31, was arrested Monday for the arson at The Grove Apartments earlier this month. During his first appearance in court Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors said they considered him a suspect in other Pullman-area arsons and his bail was set at $1 Million.
Federal prosecutors plan to file charges against him Wednesday.
The case against Kitchen actually started about an hour before the fire, which gutted the apartment complex, which was still under construction at the time.
According to the Pullman Police Department, an officer out on patrol spotted a vehicle parked near the construction site about an hour before the fire. The officer ran the plates and found the car, a red late-model Saturn, was registered to Kitchen. The vehicle was parked near The Grove Apartments and the officer saw a construction hard hat, safety vest and several cartons of cigarettes.
An hour later, when dispatchers started receiving reports about the fire, the same officer was still on duty, responded to the scene and noticed Kitchen's car was no longer parked near the complex.
Several hours later, as firefighters were fighting the fire, two Pullman police officers went to Kitchen's home. Kitchen told them that at 1:30 a.m. he got a "bad feeling" something bad was going to happen where he was working -- he was a sub-contractor working on the plumbing for The Grove Apartments -- and then explained he felt someone had been shot and buried somewhere on the complex property.
Kitchen told the officers he walked out to the property and, using his cellphone as a light, walked around the grounds for about 20 minutes. He said he had a lighter with him and smoked a few cigarettes, but during the time he was there he didn't see or hear anything so he returned home and "got drunk." Kitchen added he had not been drinking before he went out to the apartments.
Two days later, Kitchen met with officers out at the site, but his recollection of the events during his walkaround of the property changed. Now he was telling them he was on the property for up to 30 minutes and was using his lighter, not his cellphone, to find his way around in the dark. He admitted that he walked into some of the buildings, using his lighter to see around inside each structure.
When he was asked why he came out to the apartment complex in the middle of the night in the first place, Kitchen changed his story again, saying he had been home drinking, contradicting what he had told officers two days before, and then saying he thought someone might have stolen some tools from a locked Conex box.
Kitchen agreed to take a polygraph examination and on Monday he was taken to the Pullman Police Department where a polygrapher with the ATF administered the exam. Kitchen was asked if he started the fire or if he had anything to do with the fire and on both questions he said no.
The polygrapher, after the examination, confirmed to officers that Kitchen was not telling the truth. When he was questioned again, Kitchen admitted he was lying, admitted he had set the fire but said it was an accident as he had dropped a lit cigarette into a sawdust pile and wood chips near one of the buildings under construction.
Kitchen showed officers where he had thrown the cigarette on a schematic of the apartment complex, which coincided with where investigators determined the ignition of the fire had been. However, fire investigators knew that there was a 13-minute window of time wherein the fire started and that a cigarette smoldering in a pile of sawdust and wood chips wouldn't have started the fire and get it to the point where it was fully involved in such a short amount of time.
Kitchen admitted he had lied again, saying that he had actually intentionally started the fire by using his lighter and then demonstrated for officers how he had set it. He explained he set the fire to provide more light for him while he was looking inside the building and because it was cold. He then admitted that he grabbed more wood scraps and piled them onto the fire, watching the fire grow.
By the time he realized the fire was beginning to burn out of control, 20 minutes had passed. He fled the scene, telling investigators he didn't call the fire department about the spreading fire because he was concerned about losing his job.
As to why he set the fire, Kitchen told officers that he had a "voice" in his head that told him to do bad things, and when he drinks alcohol he admitted he was less inhibited about doing bad things.
Whitman County prosecutors confirmed Tuesday afternoon that they are stepping aside in this case so that the ATFE can prosecute Kitchen with federal charges.