In 2003, the Washington, DC area experienced 14 suspiciously similar incendiary house fires. Set mostly in Prince George's County, Maryland and the District of Columbia, the fires resulted in two deaths and significant destruction of private property. Stymied local fire officials needed help.
ATF led a task force comprised of police and fire departments in Washington, DC and surrounding communities in Maryland and Virginia. The ATF National Laboratory Center identified the arsonist's signature device, which was carried to the scene in a distinct plastic bag. The Laboratory provided valuable forensic leads, including the fact that the same suspect was probably responsible for 14 of the initial fires.
During the nearly two-year investigation, the task force was able to link 50 fires to a single serial arsonist and ultimately identified Thomas Sweatt as the prime suspect.
The Arrest and Adjudication
Thomas Sweatt was arrested in April 2005 for the federal crimes of arson and arson resulting in death. He pled guilty to 45 fires and received life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Sweatt later admitted to ATF Agents that he was responsible for an additional 300 fires.