Crime & Courts

Arson suspect is a 21-year-old who had drugs, but no known motive, Columbia police say

A 21-year-old was arrested and charged with starting fires at two homes owned by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Tuesday, the Columbia Police Department said.

While Frank John Wilberding is in custody, police are still trying to determine why he set the blaze at the Greene Street home that spread to a neighboring house between the University of South Carolina campus and Five Points.

Wilberding was charged with two counts of second-degree arson and was taken to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, according to a news release.

“Investigators continue to determine a motive for the arson,” police said in a release following Wilberding’s arrest.

Police said Wilberding was in possession of Xanax when he was detained walking near the crime scene, and he has also been charged with possession of a controlled substance — Schedule IV.

Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said at a news conference that he believed Wilberding lived near the crime scene, but there is no evidence that he knew the people who lived in the house.

arson suspect.jpg
The man pictured is wanted in connection with an arson at two homes near the Five Points area of Columbia, both of which are owned by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster. Columbia Police Department

Just after 6 a.m., he was captured on security camera “setting a fire on the porch at the 1716 Greene Street,” police said in the release.

Flames spread next door to 1710 Greene Street, and Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said it took 48 firefighters to put out the blaze, according to the news release.

No injuries were reported.

After assessing the property, the fire caused “approximately $450,000” worth of damage, police said.

“Once we put out the fire, we had residents come up and say that they had video of a person, so at that point we realized that we needed to turn this over the law enforcement,” Jenkins said in the news release.

Armed with that information, and after sharing it with the community, an arrest was soon made.

“This particular video not only gave us an insight as to how the fire potentially started, it also gave us a very clear shot of the person responsible for setting the fire,” Holbrook said in the news release. “Then, we were able to push that information out to the public.”

It was also discovered that there was an attempt to start a fire on the back porch of another nearby home in the 1800 block of Greene Street, according to the news release. No charges have been filed, but police said Wilberding could be a suspect once they are finished analyzing evidence.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC

Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State focused on breaking news, public safety and trending news. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.