LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — Standing on his burned front porch, Danny D. Sturgill Jr. is haunted by the intense fire that he and four other people narrowly escaped just a week ago.
“It’s amazing what one person can take from an entire family,” Sturgill said, choking back tears.
During the panicked moments when the fire started on July 4, none of them could grab any valuables or belongings.
Once the flames died down and the rubble cooled, Sturgill went in and found his late wife’s necklace — a glass heart containing a piece of rice with their names written on it. He wears it around his neck now since it’s the only valuable of hers still intact.
“It was in a jewelry box. It made it,” he said through tears. “I guess she was looking out for me.”
Investigators from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office shared a neighbor’s surveillance video of the landlord, Garry Dill, walking toward his tenants’ house with lit Tiki torches.
That’s why they said he used to start the fire. According to the probable cause affidavit, one of the victims talked to Dill the day after it happened. She asked why he set the house on fire. The affidavit states that he told her, “Those people were not paying.”
The district attorney filed a first-degree arson charge, a felony, against Dill this week. However, Thomasina Grillo, one of the other tenants displaced by the fire, is calling for additional charges to be brought against him.
“I want him charged with five counts of attempted murder because that’s what it was,” Grillo said. “He shut off the water. He set the fire, and everybody in that house could have died.”
Shortly after the fire started, two neighbors ran and helped everyone get out safely. Grillo said several charities, including the American Red Cross, have since stepped in and offered some assistance because they’ve salvaged very little from the house.
“It makes you question humanity,” Grillo said, “until you’re blessed like we have been.”
An online fundraiser has also been set up through GoFundMe to help the seven people trying to move forward after the fire.