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Child Accused in Fire That Killed 8

July 3, 1996

ALOHA, Ore. (AP) _ An 11-year-old boy portrayed as a hero last week for helping wake up tenants during a blaze that killed eight people at his apartment building was accused Tuesday of setting the fire.

Ray Martin DeFord was taken into custody and faces eight counts of felony murder, sheriff’s spokesman Chuck Leutwyler said. After talking to detectives for two hours, he confessed, his mother, Carolyn DeFord, told The Oregonian.

The boy was calm and showed no remorse, Leutwyler said. ``I saw no tears or anything.″

He was being held in a juvenile home and was to be arraigned Wednesday.

Ray had told reporters Friday that he was awakened by squeals from a rat he had been keeping to feed to his pet snake. He said he then woke up the rest of his family, and his father banged on neighbors’ doors.

``My dad says I’m the hero for the day,″ Ray said at the time.

``That’s the truth,″ added his father, Tom DeFord.

Carolyn DeFord said her son and husband were watching television together late Thursday night and her son could not have set the fire.

``We bring him in at 6 p.m. every night,″ she said.

But a neighbor, Kim Kelley, said she had seen the boy out as late as 2 a.m. Another neighbor, Debra Biderain, said, ``He just always seemed wild.″

Fourteen-year-old Jared Dairy said several neighborhood youths were together after the fire when Ray DeFord said, ``There’s people up there and they’re just toast now.″

``We couldn’t believe he said that,″ Dairy said.

Investigators said the fire was set in the entry way that provided the only exit from the 12-unit apartment building in this suburb west of Portland.

Many tenants escaped by jumping from second- and third-story windows and balconies. Fourteen people were injured.

The dead, including five children, were all from Mexico and living in a complex where most residents spoke only Spanish.

Leutwyler said there was no evidence ethnic differences played a role in the fire, but the suspect’s uncle, Roy Gabel, said ``The Mexicans are always trying to cause trouble for Ray.

``The Mexicans never liked him. The manager never liked him. He only had one friend down the street, a little guy named Matt.″

Investigators have not disclosed any details about how the fire was set.

The boy’s father said on the morning of the blaze that he had tried to awaken tenants after the fire broke out around 1:30 a.m.

``I went to all the doors I could banging and kicking, trying to get everybody out of there. I’m surprised we didn’t lose more people than we did. I think we’re all still in a little shock,″ said DeFord, 46.

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