Occupy Protester Arrested In $10M Arson Fire

Fire Burned Two Buildings In Fort Collins

Police have arrested an Occupy Fort Collins protester in connection with a $10 million arson fire that damaged dozens of condominiums and businesses in Fort Collins.

Benjamin David Gilmore, 29, was arrested on Thursday night on suspicion of arson, burglary and criminal mischief.

On Oct. 24, a fire started at 3:30 a.m. in a four-story apartment complex under construction. The fire spread to the occupied Penny Flats condominium and retail building next door.

The fire at Penny Flats caused heavy fire damage to the fourth floor and roof, and heavy smoke and water damage to the first, second and third floors, according to Poudre Fire Authority spokesman Patrick Love.

Damage was estimated at $10 million.

A joint investigation between Fort Collins Police Services, Poudre Fire Authority, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators found the cause of the fire was incendiary, meaning the fire was intentionally set, officials said.

Gilmore was taken to the Larimer County jail around midnight.

Gilmore In Court On Friday

Gilmore made his first appearance before a judge on Friday afternoon via a video camera from jail.

Gilmore stood up and told the judge, "I would just like to go home with my wife," and then he started sobbing.

Bond was set at $250,000, cash only.

In the courtroom, Gilmore's mother asked the judge to reduce the bond.

The judge decided to keep the bond at $250,000 because he said it was a serious crime that put many lives in danger.

After the hearing, several Occupy Fort Collins protesters distanced the movement from Gilmore.

"He may have stopped by the protest, but he is in no way a direct relation to our movement," said protester Julia Crisafi. "We are peaceful protesters."

"One person's actions do not represent this group as a whole," said protester Andrew Stover. "Non-violence is the way to change."

Gilmore Well Known At Occupy Fort Collins

Gilmore joined the Occupy Fort Collins movement in mid-October.

“He showed up on the 3rd or 4th day,” said Rich Crisler, who identified himself as the media coordinator for Occupy Fort Collins.

Crisler said he doesn't believe Gilmore started the fire.

“He had no reason to do this,” Crisler said. “They’re [investigators] just looking for a scapegoat.”

Crisler said Gilmore owns a honey business. Crisler said Gilmore is very kind, soft-spoken and wants to help people.

“He’s not an arsonist. I’ve dealt with people like this,” said Crisler, who said he was trained as a psychologist. “Nothing would make me think of him doing something like this.”

Crisler believes the fire was started by several homeless people who took refuge in the apartment complex that was under construction. Crisler said the men had invited him to join them on the 3rd floor in the back of the building several times to stay warm.

“You could see it [the fire] was burning from the back,” said Crisler.

Crisler said the protesters told investigators about the five homeless people. He said the five men were arrested, questioned and released.

“It’s not a good story to say five homeless people accidentally started a fire,” Crisler said.

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