Teen Admits Setting 3 Fires So He Could Look Like A Hero

A New Britain teenager who told police that he set three fires in four days so that he could rescue people and look like a hero was ordered held in lieu of $100,000 bail during his arraignment Friday in Superior Court in Hartford.

Isaiah Hellandbrand’s family wanted to keep him out of jail and to seek help for him at the Institute of Living in Hartford, but Judge David P. Gold said the frequency of the fires and Hellandbrand’s apparent compulsion to set them had him concerned about the safety of the teen’s family and others.

“I don’t think I can overstate the risk this behavior creates,” Gold said.

Hellandbrand’s lawyer, Michael Chambers, told the judge that his client suffers from a variety of mental health disorders and is intellectually disabled. “He does have limitations, your honor,” Chambers said.

The 18-year-old has been “bullied mercilessly” for years at school and has an IQ of about 60, Chambers said.

The charges against Hellandbrand include first-degree arson, risk of injury to a minor, two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment and first-degree criminal mischief.

According to a Bloomfield police report, Hellandbrand admitted to police that he set three fires in four days. Two of the fires were on Christmas Eve at his grandmother’s condo on Woodland Avenue.

Hellandbrand and his family were staying with his grandmother, according to the police report, because on Dec. 21 he set fire to his mother’s duplex at 64 Vega St. in New Britain and left it uninhabitable.

In an interview with Bloomfield police Det. Robert P. Spellman, Hellandbrand provided great detail about the three fires.

Hellandbrand told the detective that after discovering the fire in the basement of the New Britain duplex, he was able to get his neighbor and her four children to safety before calling 911.

He gave a similar description of events at his grandmother’s condo on Christmas Eve. After discovering a fire in the home, he said, he got his grandmother and sister out of the house safely, then called 911. He did the same for the second fire, he told police.

The detective pressed Hellandbrand, who’d said earlier in the interview that he planned to become a volunteer firefighter after graduating high school. Spellman told Hellandbrand that he did not think he was telling him the whole story.

Hellandbrand eventually admitted that he’s set the three fires with a cigarette lighter.

In the New Britain fire, the teen told Spellman that he piled some clothes near the furnace and lit them on fire. In the first Bloomfield fire, according to the police report, Hellandbrand said he used the lighter to start a fire in his grandmother’s bedroom. In the second Bloomfield fire, he said he piled clothing and plastic bags in the basement and set them on fire with the lighter.

“When asked why he had started all of these fires, Isaiah stated he lit the small fires so he could save the residents of the homes and look like a hero,” according to the police report.

As Gold weighed how best to deal with Hellandbrand while also protecting the public, he called Chambers and prosecutor Jesse Giddings to the bench for an off-the-record discussion.

As the lawyers talked, Hellandbrand looked to his relatives seated in the courtroom. One relative then told court staff that Hellandbrand had said he planned to kill himself. The judge then ordered a suicide watch and mental health watch and recommended Hellandbrand be held at a jail where his mental health issues could be addressed. Gold also ordered that Hellandbrand be returned to court Wednesday to see if there is a mental health facility or program he can be placed in.

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