‘I forgive you,’ Victim’s message to arrested arson suspect

Crime & Safety

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Savannah Fire Department (SFD) arrested a suspect linked to multiple downtown arson fires on Dec. 1.

SFD says 40-year-old Calvin Robbins, of Savannah, was recognized and arrested Monday at 5:47 a.m. by a Savannah Police Department officer. He will appear before a federal magistrate later this week.

A tour van, four vehicles and a porch railing were among the things damaged by the fires. The investigation remains open and firefighters would not release any possible motives. SFD says it was flooded with callers claiming they knew Robbins or had seen him immediately following the release of pictures Dec. 2.

Johnnie Brown, owner and operator of Freedom Trail Tours, lost his tour bus in the fire. He said he’s overwhelmed with joy knowing that someone is being held responsible.

“It brings some closure,” he said. “But then again, I want more answers as to why it had to happen.”

Brown said another tour company is letting him use their bus, as he works to raise enough money to get a new one.

A man of faith, Brown said he’s been relying on God to pull him through this challenging time. If given the chance to speak to the person responsible, this is what Brown would say:

“It’s hard for me to say, but I forgive you,” he said. “I do forgive you. I cannot hold it in my heart, I cannot hold a grudge. I forgive you.”

SFD released the following statement regarding the arrest:

An extensive investigation by the Savannah Fire Department (SFD) Arson Unit has resulted in the arrest of an individual suspected of the Wednesday, December 1, 2021 arsons around the Visitor’s Center Parking Lot in downtown Savannah. The fires destroyed a tour van and a three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot vehicle. Four vehicles and a porch railing were also damaged.

Savannah Fire Department

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Investigators are looking for a suspect responsible for setting a series of fires in downtown Savannah.

The Savannah Fire Department (SFD) released a photo of the individual believed to have set three fires late Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

SFD said video surveillance cameras captured images of the arson suspect wearing a hooded camouflage jacket, checkered shorts and white sneakers in the area where three fires had just been set.

SFD crews first responded to a fire at 10:56 p.m. near Harris Street and Louisville Road. The department initially reported a tour bus was on fire in the area but later clarified the vehicle involved was a three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot.

Officials said the heat from that vehicle fire damaged three other cars parked in the area.

Savannah Fire Chief Derik Minard said it’s been reported a person was seen nearby leaving the Visitor’s Center carrying what appeared to be a gas can.

Meanwhile, a second fire occurred a minute later in the 300 block of Purse Street. Fire crews discovered a small fire on a porch railing.

SFD says a realtor’s sign had been set on fire and the flames extended to the railing.

At 11:15 p.m., crews responded to a third fire at the Visitor’s Center parking lot. SFD says a tour van parked in an area near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was on fire and flames spread to a nearby parked car.

Johnnie Brown, the owner and operator of the tour bus, said he was heartbroken to hear the news.

“I began Freedom Trail back in March of 2001, so this is what I know, this is how I eat, this is how I make my living,” he told WSAV.

“It’s really unreal,” Brown continued. “I have not processed everything yet.”

A Go Fund Me page has been created to help Brown save his business recover from the damage.

According to the Go Fund Me organizer, Brown has driven thousands on his tour bus over the past 20 years, educating them about the legacy and contributions African Americans have made to Savannah.

The original Freedom Trail tour was inspired by the late great Civil Rights leader, Westly Wallace “WW” Law.

Law encouraged Brown to start the business in an effort to educate others about Savannah’s Black History.

In 2017 Johnnie was honored by the Savannah Black Heritage Festival for his work. 

Visit the Go Fund Me page HERE.

Minard said his department responded to a fourth fire at 2:42 a.m. that investigators have determined is unrelated to the other three.

The fire occurred in a shed at West 36th and Jefferson streets. SFD says crews were able to quickly gain entry and extinguish the fire.

SFD investigators also said there is no connection between the three downtown fires and an early morning fire at the Chatham County salvage yard. That fire reportedly resulted from an electrical malfunction.

Minard said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting Savannah Fire in the investigation.

The chief encouraged anyone with information on the fires to call the Georgia Arson Control Hotline at 1-800-282-5804. Arson Control offers rewards of up to $10,000 for information that leads to a conviction.

Savannah Fire can be reached at 912-644-5959.

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