True Henderson had a smile and personality that neighbors say could brighten anyone’s day. But that smile, snuffed out in a Sunday fire at Henderson’s apartment, is now being investigated as a homicide.
Evidence collected from the scene indicates the fire “was intentionally set,” Columbia police spokesperson Jennifer Timmons said Wednesday. “Therefore, CPD is treating this case as a homicide until or unless evidence determines otherwise.”
Henderson, 80, died of smoke inhalation in the blaze, which destroyed one of five buildings at the Plantation Court Apartments on South Saluda Avenue. The city fire marshal deemed the fire suspicious but has stopped short of calling it an act of arson.
Capt. Brick Lewis of the Columbia Fire Department said their agency is awaiting analysis results from the State Law Enforcement Division to determine if the fire was arson. He would not say if there were any indicators an accelerant had been used in Sunday’s fire.
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Fire officials acknowledged the recent rash of small arsons in the Rosewood area not far from Plantation Court, including a fire inside a different building at the complex in December. Timmons said police are investigating “all recent fires for similarities” and have ramped up patrols in the Hollywood-Rose Hill area.
As she walked in pain, she made sure she planted roses and smiled daises and made sure people felt better having seen her.
Frank Adams, neighbor of fire victim True Henderson
Henderson told family members about the previous fire at her complex. Her cousin, Judy Hair, believes Sunday’s blaze was intentionally set.
“I don’t think she was targeted,” said Hair, 82. “I think they just wanted to set a building on fire. I’m not sure they even thought that this would happen.”
Hair doesn’t live far from the complex and last spoke to Henderson Sunday evening.
“She said, ‘I won’t be calling you in the morning because I’m going to church and working on putting this flier out,’” Hair said, adding that Henderson was very involved at Shandon Presbyterian Church and planned to help put the church bulletin together.
Henderson was an accountant for Piggly Wiggly and moved to Columbia in 2006 after retiring from Charleston, Hair said. She enjoyed cooking, and her cakes and dressing were always a hit when the family got together.
Though Henderson suffered from arthritis in her knee, she was very active at church and with Meals on Wheels, and walked a mile each day around her neighborhood.
“She knew all the dogs on her daily walk,” Hair said.
Frank Adams, 68, lives in nearby Wales Garden and regularly saw Henderson when he was out walking.
“True was one of the people that walked very faithfully,” he said. “You'd wonder where she was when you didn't see her.”
Henderson took short steps and walked with a cane, and lately appeared to be in more pain from her arthritis, Adams said. That didn’t stop her from greeting people with a smile and “Isn’t this a beautiful day?” or “How are you today?”
“She walked in pain,” he said, “but as she walked in pain, she made sure she planted roses and smiled daises and made sure people felt better having seen her.”