Arson Suspect Said Burning Pants Caused Fire

Ryan Johnston
Ryan Johnston
Arson Suspect Said Burning Pants Caused Fire
By: Crystal Britt & Heartland News
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - Police have officially charged a suspect in connection with the Thursday morning fire that gutted a fraternity building in Cape Girardeau near the Southeast Missouri State University campus.

Ryan Johnston, 19, of Burfordville faces charges of second degree arson and second degree burglary.

He's not a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity or a student at Southeast Missouri State University, but he is a member of the Missouri National Guard.

Officials with the guard said he was getting ready to deploy, but that's not going to happen considering he's behind bars suspected of setting a building on fire.

According to court records, Ryan Johnston told police at least two versions of what he says happened.

First, he told police he went to party at the fraternity's event house.

He said he left then took a walk later around 3:30 a.m. and saw smoke.  He said he ran inside and searched to make sure no one was inside, then jumped the seven foot fence to go call for help.

Many fraternity members said they remember seeing Johnston outside the building that morning, but no one seemed to know him.

They're just glad someone's been charged.

"Kind of happy it's starting to resolve.  Kinda get over this this.  It's something we had to deal with, but now we can go on and begin closure," said Andrew Knott, a Sigma Chi member.

But Johnston's story is far from over.  Here's his second version of what happened.

Johnston told police he entered the building through an unlocked door.  He said he didn't have permission to be there and he went in to clear his head.

He then said he went up to a loft office to "check out some songs" on a laptop.  He told police his pants were making him angry.  Apparently they were too long and he kept walking on them so he told officers he decided to burn them off on the bottom.

After he did that, he told officers he went to rest his feet on a box of files and that's when the bottom of his pants set the box on fire.

He said he got scared, ran out and went for help.

Johnston is a member of the Missouri National Guard. The guard said Johnston was soon set to deploy to Iraq, but given his latest troubles he won't be going.

At the end of the probable cause statement, Johnston asked if he was going to jail.  The detective told him he was under arrest.

Johnston is behind bars in Cape Girardeau on a $100,000 bond.
The Sigma Chi event house, known as the "annex" went up in flames around 4 a.m. Thursday.  It's where the chapter held meettings and social events.
The fire caused about $50,000 in damage.  No one was hurt.