Man charged in connection with string of arsons in Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue area

Click to play video: 'Arrest made in connection with fires in central Edmonton neighbourhood'
Arrest made in connection with fires in central Edmonton neighbourhood
WATCH ABOVE: People living in Edmonton's Alberta Avenue neighbourhood say they will be able to sleep a little easier now that an arrest has been in connection with a series of fires. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports – Jun 30, 2022

One man has been charged in relation to a series of arsons in Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue area over the past several months, and police confirm the suspect is connected to notorious Edmonton landlord Abdullah Shah.

Since August 2021, the Edmonton Police Service said it identified 44 separate fires that were deliberately set and believed to be related in the Alberta Avenue area.

“Arson investigations tend to be long and complex, and this one in particular. It involved multiple locations, multiple persons of interest, limited evidence,” acting Staff Sgt. David Graham said.

“The 44 properties, we were able to relate them together. So whether it was persons of interest or addresses or owners, we were able to connect them.”

Graham could not provide details on the exact locations of the properties.

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Graham said the arson investigation uncovered “other criminality including fentanyl trafficking, gang-related offences and violence-related offences.”

He said the Edmonton drug and gang enforcement team conducted a search warrant on Wednesday, which resulted in police seizing one kilogram of fentanyl and a firearm. That investigation is ongoing, and Graham said more information will be released at a later date.

Graham also confirmed the suspect is connected to Shah, who was killed in what police called a “brazen, targeted” shooting earlier this year.

“This investigation did include a number of different people,” Graham said.

“As you know, Abdulah Shah is a victim of a homicide — there is an investigation going into that — but as to what his role was, if any, I don’t think it would be prudent for me to talk about that. He couldn’t defend himself whether he’s a witness, a suspect or otherwise.”

Residents in the central Edmonton communities of Alberta Avenue and Parkdale have been voicing their concerns for months, saying they are living in fear, not knowing when their property may be next.

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Several residents brought their concerns to city hall in May, asking for more to be done to keep their homes and properties safe.

Erick Estrada is a member of the Alberta Avenue Community League. He said members of the community learned about the arrest Wednesday night when they met with police.

“We would love to see a lot more progress a lot faster, but we understand, everybody understood that things take time to be done properly,” he said Thursday.

Estrada said he’s happy to see there’s been progress dealing with the issue, but added there are still unknowns.

“If they are saying that it is connected to 44 properties, we are wondering if they are acting alone and who is actually leading this and if they are going to be brought to justice?

“We’re very happy that finally, after decades, we are getting the attention that we needed and that the neighbourhood is getting this progress… It’s brining more trust in our authorities, so hopefully they keep on pushing.”

Estrada spoke to Global News near the site of a burned home, which he said has been sitting boarded and fenced up for about a year. He would like to see these types of properties cleaned up.

“We still want to see these taken down. This is over a year now and you can smell it after all the rain that we got. It’s just pretty bad. We have kids in the area and it’s not very secure. Anybody can just walk in,” he said.

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Christy Morin is with Arts on the Ave, and was one of the community members who spoke at city hall last month.

“We’re really glad to hear that someone is actually responsible for these, that our thoughts about them being connected are probably true and I think we’ll be able to sleep a lot more peacefully,” she said.

“This is progress for us. Alberta Avenue was really under siege and this is just a great step of rebuilding, finding the vibrancy. We were all sort of wondering how we were going to spend our summers chasing fires, (and that) is now not part of our thinking so we’re pretty excited about that.”

Graham said high priority was given to this investigation, which involved police looking into more than 100 fires. He said police appreciated the patience of area residents while they conducted the complex investigation.

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“There’s reasons why we can’t speak about an ongoing investigation, but I do feel for them. We met with them on multiple occasions and they’re traumatized. These arsons have been awful for them, for the neighbourhood, and they have a really strong community group in that neighbourhood, and I think they’ll get through this. But I think we could be better at communicating.

“The public expects these to stop, right? They’re traumatized and so we might be able to get one person for doing one arson; however, our goal was to cut off the head and make sure that we were targeting the right people and it takes a long time to follow that evidence through.”

When it comes to the motive, Graham said police have an “operating theory” that they’ve developed from the evidence gathered, which has been passed along to the Crown prosecutor.

“In generalities, it boils down to things like intimidation and power and greed. But that’s just my own personal opinion. What the Crown will be able to prosecute is what the evidence will be able to show,” Graham said.

Darcy Willier, 38, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with seven counts of arson, two counts of arson with disregard for human life and several firearms-related charges.

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The EPS said the investigation is ongoing and further charges may be laid.

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