A southeast Minneapolis man charged with first-degree arson and second-degree murder Monday told police he torched his apartment building to collect on his renter’s insurance policy, according to court documents.
Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar charged Shane Matthew Knapp, 20, with setting fire to the building where he lived, killing 18-year-old Letu Hayato.
Knapp, who was arrested Thursday night, told police he intentionally set the fire at 301 University Ave. S.E. to please his girlfriend, who had pressured him about money, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.
Knapp’s 19-year-old girlfriend, who was also arrested late Thursday, was released from jail Monday and has not been charged.
Knapp also told police that he started the fire by pouring gasoline throughout the third-floor hallway.
Police investigating the fire said they found a melted gasoline container in the hallway. Burn patterns in the third-floor carpet also indicated arson, investigators said.
Hayato, who lived in apartment 301 with her family, suffered severe burns and died from the fire, according to the criminal complaint. Her death has been ruled a homicide.
Hayato, a recent eastern African emigrant, had spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing war in Ethiopia, a family friend told the Star Tribune.
She woke her family before trying to escape down the apartment’s stairwell. Her body was found near the stairwell where she had been overcome by smoke and heat, according to the report. The rest of her family was rescued from their apartment window by firefighters.
Several other residents and a firefighter also sustained minor injuries during Thursday’s blaze.
Police said Knapp also admitted he started an earlier fire in the building’s laundry room by soaking a blanket with lighter fluid and lighting it. He said he started the Aug. 4 fire in the room because he believed chemicals and dryer lint would be very flammable.
Although police say Knapp admitted to starting the Aug. 4 fire, he has only been charged with one count of arson.
Knapp is also suspected in a June 27 fire in a third-floor storage area.
Knapp is being held in Hennepin County Jail on $500,000 bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 27.