“we found our car on fire in our alley. The video shows the arsonist”

“Dear PoPville,

We thought we should spread the word, in case this guy is a serial arsonist.

On Friday morning at about 2:30 am, we found our car on fire in our alley (entrance at 3rd and K Street). The video below (from a neighbor’s security camera) shows the arsonist, though his face is covered. Based on the video, we think he could have used a timer, and an explosive.


With a little help from the internet, we are now 99% sure that it was a thermite device. Basically, a homemade incendiary device where super hot combustibles put in a ceramic pot and set on fire. 1 lb. of thermite can melt through a car hood and an engine block in a matter of minutes.

Clearly, this guy has done this before. We’d like all of our DC neighbors to be on the lookout, and if they see someone who fits this MO, be aware that they could have a serious explosion and fire on their hands in 20 minutes. The guy appears to be about 6 feet tall, white, and carrying a large paper bag. He has a distinct walk and run, and was wearing very baggie clothes and running shoes.”

46 Comment

  • This looks quite targeted, I imagine you might already have a lead?

  • That is so terrifying! Do you think you were targeted or this is just some sick dude?

  • It’s hard to tell-we don’t have any real enemies (that we know of) who would put so many homes and lives in danger. We just figured out that he probably used a thermite device-easy to obtain combustibles packed into a ceramic pot and set on fire. Everyone, please be aware and safe, and speak up if any of this looks familiar to you.

  • Wow, that’s nuts.
    What kinds of camera does your neighbor have?!? That’s incredibly clear! Too bad Metro cameras don’t have such a high resolution.

    • I was thinking the same thing regarding the camera. We’re looking into getting one and I’d like to add this to the decision set!

      • Camera guy here. It’s a Hikvision bullet with EXIR infrared LEDs. Basically this one here: https://www.amazon.com/Hikvision-V5-2-5-DS-2CD2232-I5-Network-Bracket/dp/B00I86TMCK

        The system is a DIY setup with relatively cheap software running off an extra PC in my house and I edited the video with youtube’s video editor.

        • I was just going to comment that I thought it was a Hikvision. I have wired ones on each corner of my house running at 4MP each. Just a warning that there are non-US versions of Hikvision cameras which do not allow you to update the firmware so just be mindful of that. I use a site called nellyssecurity.com – they are very helpful. Anything labeled as H-Series or NSC is a Hikvision camera.

  • Whoa! This takes me back. Anyone else remember those Berlin car fires in the early 2010’s? (http://www.businessinsider.com/berlin-car-fire-2011-8) What type of car was it, I wonder?

  • Wow — that is terrifying.

  • It looks like he runs back down into the alley (one way dead end) after setting the device.
    Is it possible he hid down there and watched? Is there later vid of him walking out??

    • It is possible to run out the “dead end” side of the alley as a pedestrian, it is not entirely blocked by buildings.

  • I really don’t know what to say after seeing this. w.t.f.?

  • Someone has been sleeping with his wife or girlfriend….

  • jim_ed

    Jesus, this is unsettling. Just looking for any ideas why someone might have targeted you… do you by chance drive some giant SUV that could’ve been targeted by environmental groups? They’ve been known to commit arson on cars they deem harmful to the planet in the past.

  • What quadrant? NE? That’s terrible!

  • David

    I want this camera. Let us know if you found out what kind it is.

  • Vehicle owner here*:

    has anyone else looked at the video in slow motion besides me?

    Because I have, more times than I care to admit, and I am convinced that the person is wearing shoes that are too big for him, on purpose, to disguise his shoe size. He isn’t loping when he first walks past. But when he leaves, picks up speed, and runs, the weird heel-toe motion makes me think he’s running / walking funny because he doesn’t want his shoes to fall off. Explains the pigeon-toed walk as well. it’s why his hip splays out when he first starts to run.

    Try it – go put on a pair of shoes that are 3 or 4 or 5 sizes too big.

    Try to walk in them without heel-toeing.

    And then try to run in them.

    Whoever this was – he was not just some random arsonist.

    I am 100% certain of that – why go through that much effort to conceal your identity if you aren’t afraid the people who own the vehicle will recognize you?

    Anyway, ATF is involved now – the agent told me he has never seen a thermite device in the wild.

    This is completely fucking crazy.

    *The vehicle is an art project for a local 501(c)(3) arts support organization – a converted ambulance cum mobile sound system and kinetic art platform.


    • “*The vehicle is an art project for a local 501(c)(3) arts support organization – a converted ambulance cum mobile sound system and kinetic art platform.” I don’t understand — in the website you linked to, it looks like the “Beat Box” is a converted U-Haul truck, not a converted ambulance. Am I looking at the wrong thing?
      Was the octopus sculpture on the vehicle when it was burned?

      • Textdoc – good eye. Yes, the ambulance is the BeatBox (and the genesis of the name), but we couldn’t get it started the day of the H Street Festival, so we rented a Uhaul box truck instead.

    • Do you play the vehicle music loudly while testing it out in the alley? Maybe it’s a crazed neighbor super pissed about your project who saw this as his way to “fix the problem?”

      • No – it’s only stored there. It sits there for weeks at a time between events.

      • This was my thought: someone who can’t stand rich kids who think their right to “art” trumps everyone else’s right to quiet. I’ve had fleeting thoughts of destruction when faced with the type.

        • But “fleeting thoughts” about

        • But “fleeting thoughts” about doing something crazy and actually starting a large and dangerous vehicle fire are two very different things.
          And as the OP says, he wasn’t actually using the soundsystem in the alley, so that seems to be a moot point.

        • Here are some pics of what we used it for:


          And the non-profit’s website: http://www.beatboxdc.org

          We formed it a little over a year ago to take advantage of the resources (sound system, etc.) and talent of the folks in our social group. We had only just re-branded as “BeatBox DC” just before this year’s H Street Festival. You’ll actually notice in the photos from the Festival that we had to use a U-Haul Box truck because two of the injectors failed and we couldn’t move it. We were planning to bring it to our mechanic the morning before it burned.

    • I think the shoe fits… but this guy knew what he was doing… If you have the time, and could review tape from the last couple of weeks… he has scouted this spot before. You know this person or at least have had a run in with him before. I would love to know more about the local arts group.

  • I’m impressed with how quickly the fire fighters arrived! How scary for you all. So glad you’re physically uninsured.

    • Actually – the video has been edited down for brevity – it’s a lot longer. It cuts from when the fire starts to really blow to when DC FD arrives to put it out (for example, it doesn’t show me pulling my truck out of the parking spot next to it to keep it from burning up too).

      That said, DC FD are only about 10 blocks away, and were there in less than 10 minutes.

  • Wow, this is scary. I hope this doesn’t become a trend in the District. Several years ago, an arsonist was starting fires in apartment buildings around the District. Maybe the suspect had some type of vendetta against the owner of the vehicle? I believe this occurred within the 5th District area. I shared this video with the Commanders of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 4th Districts including Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes and Interim Police Chief Police Chief Peter Newsham.

  • They full body covering, balaklava and gloves have this armchair guessing he’s either a professional paid to do this…or someone who has never done this before but has watched a lot of CSI.

  • Whoa…I would be terrified if I were the OP! I’m no detective, but this looks deliberate and premeditated to me. Glad no one was hurt and props to the FD for arriving so quickly!

  • What I don’t understand is why he walks towards the camera and then back to your cars. Was he ditching a change of clothes, or looking for an opportune place to put the device?

    Regardless, it’s scary, and I hope he’s caught!

    • He walked past to make sure there wasn’t anyone else in the alley who might witness him in the act. He’s wearing the same clothes when he turns around to approach the ambulance, and he’s carrying the same bag.

  • I think all of the privacy fences significantly reduce the visibility and make the alleys more dangerous when there are a lot of homes crowded close together. In our NE neighborhood of townhomes, everyone used to have chain-link fences and from my back window I could see in 20 different backyards. Now with the first flip the investors added a privacy fence in the backyard which is at the corner of a T alley and the new fence immediately cut me off from seeing 5 to 8 backyards.

  • in agreement with a prior comment, this person has probably scouted the area – or is extremely familiar w/the cameras and the fact that they could ‘escape’ through the alley dead end – they didn’t go back the way they came. it might be interesting to see if the restaurant around the corner has footage from their camera too.

    i don’t think the shoes are too big. lots of peeps, even skaters, wear shoes that are ‘big’. the walk is distinctive.

    the fact that they were not wearing dark clothing is also interesting. i’m willing to bet that the person left their face uncovered while on the public roads.

    also, remember. a criminal always goes back to the scene of the crime.

  • is this NE or NW?

  • Out of curiosity, is there physical evidence that this was a thermite device?

    • Yes, we found the signature white burn mark on the hood, and a broken ceramic pot in the same shape as the white burn mark. Melted metal residue in the pot. (We think it broke apart or fell off the hood before it melted the hood. Also, the pot was much smaller than the thermite car fire videos you see-almost 1/3 smaller, so smaller fire/less heat). We also found a hunk of melted metal residue, same shape and size as the pot. ATF took that to their lab.

  • This is incredibly effed up. I hope they find the person before he does it again or hurts someone. I’m so disgusted.

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