The man charged with starting three fires inside the Richland Walmart was trying to distract store employees so he could walk out with a cart full of unpaid merchandise.

But it didn’t go according to his plan, say police.

The door to his escape route appeared to be locked.

So, Aaron J. Cockrill had to abandon his shopping cart and slip out a different door, according to court documents.

Still, Richland police caught up with him, and he’s locked up in jail on $50,000 bail.

He pleaded innocent this week in Benton County Superior Court to first-degree arson. His trial is Aug. 12.

Firefighters and police were called to the Duportail Street store about 10:30 p.m. June 6 for a small fire in the garden center. Reports then came in about a second fire in the stationary section and another in housewares.

The fires were extinguished by the time officers arrived, but they took note of the damage and smoke, documents said.


No one was hurt, but the store was forced to close for nearly five hours while crews used fans to remove the smoke.

Walmart security employees saved the surveillance footage that showed a man lighting the fires, then trying to leave with the full cart.

Police were able to identify one suspect, but could only describe the second man as wearing a gray T-shirt and baseball hat.

After pictures of the second suspect were published on the Richland police Facebook page and in the media, people called to identify Cockrill. One of the tipsters included his former parole officer from Oregon, court documents show.

Cockrill was arrested after Pasco police stopped to talk with him on June 11 for allegedly stealing a gas can.

He blurted out that “Richland police would probably want to talk to him about the fire at Walmart,” documents said.

Cockrill — who allegedly had three gas cans when arrested, admitted to being at Walmart — but claimed to be drunk and couldn’t remember the fires.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that the fire alarm forced the door to Cockrill’s escape route to lock because of the fire alarm. Store representatives say that the doors do not automatically lock during fires.