North Tonawanda woman charged in string of arsons at neighbors’ homes - The Buffalo News
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North Tonawanda woman charged in string of arsons at neighbors’ homes

A North Tonawanda woman is accused of setting nine fires, including eight at the home of an 82-year-old neighbor.

Michelle L. Johnston, 41, of Fifth Avenue, was charged with two counts of second-degree arson and seven counts of third-degree arson.

Police say her motive is a mystery. Detectives interviewed Johnston on Wednesday.

“She doesn’t admit to all of them, but has admitted to four or five,” North Tonawanda Police Chief William R. Hall said.

He said Johnston would not say why she targeted her 82-year-old neighbor’s house.

“There’s no animosity between the two of them. When the victim was told last night who it was, she was genuinely shocked,” Hall said.

Johnston is charged for her role in eight fires at 19 Fifth Ave., the home of an 82-year-old woman between June 20 and this Wednesday, Hall said. He said police have Johnston on video setting fire, captured on security cameras at another neighbor’s house.

Investigators suspected arson after three fires were put out on June 20 and 21 at 19 Fifth Ave. The fires heavily damaged the house.

Wednesday, two more fires were reported at the 19 Fifth Ave. house at 7:30 a.m. and again just after 1 p.m. Total damage at the address was estimated at $35,000.

Johnston is also suspected of having a role in another fire at 7 Fifth Ave.

But Hall said concerned homeowners on Fifth Avenue should be able to rest easy.

“A lot of the neighbors thought that there were kids in the neighborhood doing it. I just want them to be assured that [Johnston] was the only one involved. It wasn’t any youths on bicycles. That rumor got started a couple of weeks ago and got bigger as it got repeated,” said Hall.

Johnston was arraigned Thursday in North Tonawanda City Court and was remanded to Niagara County Jail in lieu of $40,000 bail.


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