A substantial cash reward is now available for information that leads law enforcers to an arrest and conviction in relation to an April arson that drove four families from their home in Lackawanna.
The fire started shortly after 3:30 a.m. on April 22 in the rear of a multi-unit home at 97 Ingham Avenue. More than a dozen children were among the four families forced out of their homes. Two of the children suffered serious injuries. The four-year-old, Zainab Soliman, suffered from smoke inhalation and a partially collapsed lung, while three-year-old Zaid Soliman suffered third-degree burns and required skin grafts.
The person responsible is still at large. Investigators say a person of interest was captured on video, riding a bicycle, by a security camera near 97 Ingham around the time the fire was first reported. That individual is now a person of interest.
Lackawanna Police Chief James Michel says because of the time of the fire, they may not have witnesses but investigators are convinced someone knows critical information.
"What were hoping is that someone with a conscience has been wrestling with this knowledge for the last four months," Michel said." Hopefully with the reward out there, they might want to clear their conscience and come forward with some information."
The $11,000 reward announced Wednesday was put together by Crimestoppers and the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York. The latter raised $10,000 through outreach and donations.
"It is, for all of us, getting together and working together, bringing the culprit to justice," said Dr. Khalid Qazi, MPAC's founding president. "We don't want any incidents like this in our community."
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that the fire was a hate crime. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn questions whether there may be a connection with an earlier incident at the same address.
"There was a telephone book that was lit on fire, on April 7, and thrown on the front porch of this building," Flynn said. "And here we are, 15 days later on April 22, and we have this fire now. That, to me, is suspicious."
Lackawanna Police say federal investigators were consulted but at this time it is not a federal case.
People with information are encouraged to call Crimestoppers at 716-867-6161.