Bobbie Sue Hodge, 60, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of attempted second-degree murder and first-degree arson, according to online court records.
Hodge was arrested around 9:15 a.m. Monday after a nearly two-month investigation by the State Fire Marshal, Harford County Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Hodge was taken to Harford County Detention Center, where she is being held without bail pending a bail review Wednesday afternoon.
“Three people lost their lives, three of our residents in the county lost their lives in this fire. Tragic fires don’t occur not a whole lot, but when they occur it’s horrible,” Harford Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said during a news conference Tuesday at the Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Bel Air to announce the arrest.
“Then you think of that sort of situation and being unable to escape. Thankfully some were able to escape. To know it was an intentional act that started it down the path to end these people’s lives, it’s horrific.”
He said it brings a sense of relief for friends and family members “to develop enough probable cause to bring this case to a closure.”
The fire in the three-story house in the 1800 block of Simons Court, that was set up for nine people to live in, was reported around 2:30 a.m.
Ernest Milton Lee, 57, Kimberly Ann Shupe, 47, and Dionne Dominique Hill, 32, all lived on the third floor and died in the fire.
Shupe’s family attended the news conference Tuesday but declined to comment on Hodge’s arrest.
Two other people were injured — one was Mary Elizabeth Kennedy, 52, with burns to more than 70 percent of her body and the other was Marquise St. John, 29, who was released from Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
Kennedy was on the second floor and was rescued by firefighters; she is still receiving medical treatment, according to the charging documents.
St. John was injured jumping from a third-floor window, according to the documents.
Investigators determined Hodge, “who is also an occupant” of the townhouse allegedly “did intentionally ignite a fire within the second-floor living room,” according to charging documents.
“It is no accident that these three innocent people lost their lives on that Thursday morning and that two others continue to suffer with their injuries,” Maryland Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said at the news conference.
Geraci would not say how Hodge allegedly started the fire.
Hodge was a suspect from the beginning, Gahler said.
“I don’t think to say there is a specific motive investigators have uncovered would be accurate,” he said. “It’s fair to say investigators realized early on this suspect deserved a strong look.”
Sheriff’s deputies had been called to the home several times previously, Gahler said.
In the days before the fire, Hodge allegedly made multiple threats to burn the home and on the night of the fire, she was allegedly seen leaving the second-floor living room at the time of the fire, according to charging documents.
One of the residents of the home made a phone call saying that Hodge had set a fire in the townhouse, charging documents show.
Throughout the investigation, Hodge’s statements before and after the fire were inconsistent, according to the documents.
Investigators determined the fire caused $300,000 damage to the home where the fire started and the five other homes to which the fire extended.
Illegal group home
After the blaze, state fire officials said they were investigating whether the home was being operated as an “illegal boarding house.”
With nine people living in the home — eight were home at the time of the fire, including Hodge; one person was at work — it was determined to be an illegal group home, a lodging and rooming house, Geraci said.
“Based on the number of occupants in the house, it did not meet or comply with current standards and fire codes in the state of Maryland,” he said.
When six or more unrelated people are living together in one house, the house has to comply with state fire codes, according to the fire marshal. That may include a smoke detector in every bedroom or a certain number of ways to escape.
He was issued violation notices for homes at 1846 Grempler Way, 1848 and 1854 Elise Lane, 1947 and 1845 Brookside Drive and 1459 Charlestown Drive, fire officials said.
Those homes were brought into compliance by reducing the number of residents that would otherwise require complete sprinkler systems, a complete fire alarm system and smoke alarms in each level of the home outside sleeping areas, Geraci said.