A 14-year-old Port Richey girl has been accused of setting her house on fire early Thursday after an argument with her family, investigators said.
The teen's mother and 9-year-old brother, awakened by a smoke alarm, safely escaped the blaze, officials said. They told firefighters that the girl was unaccounted for, and an emergency search was conducted in the home, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said.
The teen, Lily Marie Hartwell, was located several hours later by fire investigators and taken into custody at 7432 Little Road, deputies said.
She faces one count of arson and two counts of attempted murder, deputies said.
The Chasco Middle School student was questioned by detectives and admitted to setting the fire on purpose after an argument, deputies said.
Pasco County firefighters, called about 1:45 a.m. to the fire at 9006 Hermitage Lane, found heavy smoke and fire in the garage and pushing up from the roof of the single-story home.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco has scheduled a news conference to discuss the case as well as its possible connection to the fictional online character The Slender Man.
The teen told detectives she visited websites related to the character, which has been tied to other violent crimes involving youths around the country.
Neighbors expressed shock, saying the girl was a typical teen who had never done anything to raise alarm, and the family members were good neighbors.
“It's a tragedy,” said Sandy Gilbert, who lives across the street. “I hate to see something like this happen to such a nice family.”
Gilbert said her husband, Tom, was up at the time of the fire, heard something outside and looked out to see the flames. He woke her, told her to call 911 and hurried across the street to try to help the family and to awaken the neighbors next door to Hartwell's house because flames were getting close to their house.
Gilbert said she called 911, then began shouting out Hartwell's mother's name, “Sarah, Sarah.”
Moments later, the mother and her son ran out of the house and she heard the mother say, “I can't find my daughter.”
Meanwhile, Gilbert could see fire on both sides of the house.
“It was pop, pop, popping,” she said. “All of a sudden there was like an explosion.”
She's unsure whether that was caused by the car parked in the garage, an aerosol can in the garage or something else. Firefighters later pulled the burnt car out of the garage and onto the driveway, where it remained later in the day.
Gilbert's husband had successfully roused the neighbors, Jim Colucci and his mother, Dolores, who rushed out of their home, which was scorched on one side.
“The flames were like a rolling flame,” Jim Colucci said. “You could feel the heat across the street.”
Colucci said his house would have been damaged more, but firefighters arrived quickly and put down the flames. When firefighters learned the girl was missing, they went inside the burning house several times in search of her, he said.
Colucci had praise for the firefighters and law enforcement officers who came to the scene, but was left in disbelief about the girl.
“It does surprise me,” he said. “The kids got off the (school) bus. They pretty much went in the house. To find out these accusations is very disturbing.”