San Leandro Police identify Wal-Mart arson suspect

- Police today identified an arson suspect who allegedly set fire to children's Halloween costumes at a Wal-Mart store in San Leandro on Tuesday afternoon as 40-year-old Antwan Alexander Johnson.

Police said Johnson, an Oakland resident, is being held at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in lieu of $250,000 bail on suspicion of arson and is scheduled to be arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Police said that at about 10 a.m. Tuesday, loss prevention officers at the Wal-Mart at 15555 Hesperian Blvd. noticed a suspicious man, later identified as Johnson, pushing a shopping cart with what later was identified as a two-quart bottle of charcoal lighter fluid, which was leaking.

At about 1:40 p.m., loss prevention officers saw the same man squirting lighter fluid on a section of Halloween costumes that were displayed in a sales aisle near the middle of the store, police Lt. Robert McManus said.

McManus said a fire erupted and smoke filled the store. Wal-Mart employees used fire extinguishers to begin putting the fire out and Alameda County firefighters who responded to the scene were able to extinguish the
flames.

Store employees detained Johnson and San Leandro police took custody of him, according to McManus.

Detectives later viewed store surveillance video footage that showed Johnson squirting charcoal lighter, believed to have been taken from Wal-Mart's garden center, on additional items at the store, such as
inflatable mattresses that were on display in the sporting goods section, McManus said.

Detectives have interviewed Johnson, but to protect the integrity of their investigation they aren't releasing the details of the interview or a possible motive for starting the fire, according to police.

McManus said in a statement that Tuesday's fire "could have been very tragic if it weren't for the immediate action of some Wal-Mart employees."

He said, "A few employees put themselves in danger to stop the fire from spreading while other employees held Johnson until police arrived. If it weren't for these brave employees, no one knows how this may have
ended."

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