By staff and wire reports A bookstore owner who was charged with firebombing a wildlife lab in Olympia and named as a suspect in the arson...

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By staff and wire reports

A bookstore owner who was charged with firebombing a wildlife lab in Olympia and named as a suspect in the arson of a University of Washington horticulture center was found dead early Thursday in a jail cell in Flagstaff, Ariz.

William C. Rodgers, 40, of Prescott, Ariz., committed suicide, according to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office. The county medical examiner determined Rodgers had suffocated after placing a plastic bag over his head while being held in a one-person cell.

Rodgers was one of six people arrested earlier this month in connection with a string of arson attacks in the Pacific Northwest. He was charged in the burning of a federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service facility outside Olympia, which caused $1.2 million in damage. Prosecutors recently named him as a suspect in the $1.5 million May 2001 arson at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture.

Rodgers had been scheduled to be transported to Seattle to face the charges.

Another suspect in arsons in Washington and at a Vail, Colo., ski resort, Chelsea Gerlach, was placed on suicide watch Thursday as a result of Rodgers’ death. She is being held in Eugene, Ore.

Gerlach had asked for bail, but a magistrate denied the request after authorities said they found fake identification in her Portland apartment Wednesday.

Jailers in Flagstaff found Rodgers dead about 7 a.m. Thursday, a sheriff’s spokesman said. He could have died anytime during the night. The spokesman said there had been no indication that Rodgers was depressed or intended to take his own life.

“There was no indication of any distress,” Lt. Charlie Wong said. “He was completely normal.”

Last week, FBI agents, in testimony and affidavits, said the government had recorded Rodgers admitting he was planning an arson. The government also claimed Rodgers had attended a meeting of Earth Liberation Front members in western Colorado where the arson of a Vail ski resort was planned.

The federal government also claimed to have a recording of another person saying he found a manual, written by Rodgers, called “Setting Fires with Electronic Timers,” in the offices of a New York environmental group, according to affidavits unearthed by the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

Court records revealed that a search of Rodgers’ home had turned up bomb-making materials and two digital photos of nude, prepubescent girls.

Barry Sheldahl, assistant U.S. attorney in Portland, said he didn’t think Rodgers’ death would affect other arson cases.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle said the death was unfortunate.

“It was a tragedy for his family,” Emily Langlie said. “And we had hoped that the justice system could move forward and bring closure to the victims of these fires.”

Rodgers ran a bookstore in Prescott called the Catalyst Infoshop that friends called a combination bookstore and community meeting room.

His court-appointed lawyer, David Barrow of Flagstaff, said, “I’m deeply saddened by this. He was a beautiful man with high principles, and we’re worse for his passing.”

The Associated Press, Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Times staff reporter Craig Welch contributed to this report.