An amusement-park employee with a background in pyrotechnics was the ringleader in a $10 million arson spree at a suburban Washington housing development, a federal prosecutor...

Share story

GREENBELT, Md. — An amusement-park employee with a background in pyrotechnics was the ringleader in a $10 million arson spree at a suburban Washington housing development, a federal prosecutor said yesterday.

Prosecutor Donna Sanger said at a hearing that Patrick Walsh, 21, was the “instigator” of the plot and the leader of a tightly organized group of young men who referred to themselves as “The Family” and set the fires to make a statement.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

A federal magistrate ordered Walsh held without bail.

Six young men have been charged in the Dec. 6 string of fires that destroyed 10 houses and damaged 16 others at the Hunters Brooke community, an upscale development under construction.

“He had this fascination with fire, and he focused on the Hunters Brooke development as the place where he wanted to make this statement,” Sanger said in court. “He is the one who settled on the means, the method and the target.”

She said Walsh may have been responsible for other fires, including one set in a field in Prince George’s County. Sanger said Walsh had a background in pyrotechnics; she would not elaborate.

William Purpura, Walsh’s attorney, said his client worked a summer job at Six Flags Amusement Park, but added: “He has absolutely no expertise in pyrotechnics.”

Purpura also said there was no such thing as “The Family.” He said Walsh was part of a group of friends with a shared interest in cars.

Investigators have offered various possible motives for the fires, including revenge against the builder and the security company at the construction site; racism (the defendants are white, and many of the homeowners are black); and a quest for notoriety for “The Family,” which prosecutors said also was known as the “Unseen Cavaliers.”