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Arson suspect Harry Burkhart's mother in court: 'Where is my son?'

January 3, 2012 |  1:19 pm

 

The mother of the suspect in a string of Los Angeles arson fires, Harry Burkhart, demanded to see her son Tuesday as she arrived in federal court to face a German criminal warrant that could lead to her deportation.

Dorothee Burkhart, as her hearing was scheduled to begin, repeatedly asked for her son, apparently unaware he had been arrested in connection with the fires.

"Where is my son?" she asked of the U.S. marshals and other agents around her. "He should come into the court .... Somebody take decision if my son can come in or nor."

"Can you bring my son inside, please," she said at another point.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said he could not disclose the nature of the alleged crime she Dorothee Burkhart wanted for in Germany because the warrant was sealed. She was arrested Thursday, a day before the fires began.

MAP: Southland arsons

Her son, Harry Burkhart, 24, was booked on arson charges on Monday. He is a German national who carried travel papers from Chechnya but has lived in Southern California for the last several years, police say.

Authorities are not clear on his motives for starting the fires but speculated that he might have been angry about his mother's pending deportation.

PHOTOS: Southland arsons

A senior LAPD official said Harry Burkhart had attended a recent immigration hearing regarding his mother's case and erupted in a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements.

It was this incident that eventually led police to Burkhart. Several sources said the tip came from an official at the State Department. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday also thanked the U.S. Marshals Service for helping identify Burkhart.

TV footage showed Burkhart after his arrest, dressed in black, wearing his hair in a ponytail and grinning.

FULL COVERAGE: Southland arsons

Since Friday morning, at least 50 fires were set in Los Angeles, mostly in the Hollywood area, but also on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley. Many of the blazes were in carports and driveways, and spread to apartment buildings and homes.

Los Angeles police said they have strong evidence tying Burkhart to the arson spree, including fire-starting materials found inside his minivan during his arrest Monday.

But officials have stressed that the investigation is still ongoing. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said the department was moving cautiously and that it was unclear exactly when the case would be presented to prosecutors.

"We are confident in our investigation, but we have a long way to go," he said.

In an interview with The Times, he added: "I feel very good that we've got the right guy. He had the right stuff in his van and I am confident in the arrest."

Police served search warrants at his Hollywood apartment Monday evening.

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-- Victoria Kim

 

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