The historic Texas Governor's Mansion is shown early Sunday, June 8, 2008, in Austin, Texas, after a fire swept through it earlier in the morning. The fire left much of the 150-year-old home charred and inflicted damage that state officials described as "bordering on catastrophic." No one was inside at the time and the cause of the blaze is unknown. The mansion had been undergoing a $10 million renovation. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Texas Rangers have developed information about a men they consider to be persons of interest in the 2008 arson fire of the Texas governor’s mansion, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced Thursday.
A $50,000 cash reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the individuals responsible for this arson.
A fire swept through the historic Texas governor's mansion in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 8, 2008, leaving much of the 152-year-old building charred and severely damaged.
Security cameras set up around the mansion, which sits downtown on a lot the size of a city block, showed someone run up and throw a Molotov cocktail onto the porch of the mansion. The fire quickly spread.
Investigators said Thursday that after a full review of all the surveillance video, they noticed a white Jeep Cherokee whose occupants were seen taking pictures of the mansion in the early morning hours of June 4, 2008—four days before the arson.
Forensics investigators said they went through over 3,000 similar Jeeps registered in Texas and located that specific vehicle and its owner. The owner, who DPS did not identify, admitted to driving the vehicle while the photos of the mansion were taken.
The driver, considered a person of interest, also told investigators the identities of the two people in the vehicle with him. Investigators interviewed both of those people.
“One passenger initially denied having been in the vehicle, but later admitted to having been in the vehicle and taking photographs after failing a polygraph examination,” DPS said in a news release issued Thursday afternoon.
All three persons have denied involvement in the arson of the mansion, and have not been arrested.
When asked why DPS hasn't arrested the persons of interest they've interviewed, public information officer Tela Mange told NBCDFW, "Because we don’t have probable cause."
DPS said the unidentified persons of interest are connected to an Austin-based anarchist group that was linked to a planned attack on the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in September 2008, which also involved Molotov cocktails.
Officials said there was no evidence any direct threat was intended to Gov. Rick Perry, who was out of the country with his wife Anita when the fire was intentionally started. The Perry's weren't living in the mansion at the time the fire was set, as they had temporarily moved out in 2007 so that a $10 million restoration project could be completed. That project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2009.
All historic furnishings and heirlooms had been removed for the renovation project, but much of the wood in the Greek revival-style mansion was "completely irreplaceable" longleaf pine, officials said; and some interior ornamentation is beyond repair.
Parts of the six 29-foot columns at the front of the home, a national historic landmark, and much of the front wall were charred black. In some places the original color of the brick could be seen where white paint had burned off.
The mansion was equipped with a fire alarm. A state trooper who was on the grounds as part of regular security detail heard an alarm go off, then saw flames and called the fire department, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Tela Mange said.
DPS was criticized heavily after the fire, as it was started on their watch. Since the blaze, security presence has been visibly increased around the mansion as crews work to repair it.
The governor uses the mansion as a home and for official functions, such as hosting heads of state and for gathering with lawmakers and the news media.
Built in 1856, the home is the oldest continually used executive residence west of the Mississippi, according to the group Friends of the Governor's Mansion, which works to preserve and show the public the historic building.
Anyone with information that could be helpful to investigators is urged to call 1-800-252-TIPS (8477) or text "DPS plus your tip" to 274637 (CRIMES).