74-year-old female 'serial arsonist' arrested in Alexandria

Stratford Building/South Towers apartments, Alexandria. (Photo: Hatzel Vela/WJLA)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WJLA) - Authorities said Thursday they have a 74-year-old woman in custody that is believed to have committed more than two dozen arsons in the Alexandria area.

This Stratford building resident -- who wishes to remain anonymous -- says there have been many times when she was inside her apartment, then suddenly forced to evacuate after the fire alarm went off.

She knew about the fires, but did not know that it was one of her neighbors who was intentionally causing them – approximately setting 25 fires in a 10-month period.

"Most fires occurs after midnight when residents were sleeping, resulting in numerous evacuations of the building," said Agent Thomas Faison with The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

"It's been annoying," said the unnamed resident. "It's just really been a lot. It's just really, really been a nuisance...and it's been dangerous for people living here."

Investigators say that on Wednesday night, 74-year-old Shirley Vigneau was caught on camera walking out of a seventh floor trash room where a fire was started. They say Vigneau would light up papers in order to start the fire.

"She's an older woman, she looked innocent," said neighbor Bery Amshu. Amshu explained that when she would see seventh floor next door neighbor Shirley, they would often talk about all of the arson hitting their floor.

She says the 74-year-old would say that she didn't know who was doing this, and that they were all in danger at the apartment. And when Amshu finally saw on the news that Vigneau had admitted to setting all the fires:

"Oh my goodness, I just was surprised. You don't know who's your neighbor."

"I just told my husband, I think someone's actually doing this on purpose, I think we have an arsonist," said another resident on that floor, Debola Haenifuja. "You're asleep, you don't know what can happen any time of the day, it's scary."

Haenifuja says many of the fires happened while she was pregnant and then after she had her baby. She and her husband are shocked at who was arrested, but also relieved.

Especially because of my baby," she said.

On Thursday, the Alexandria Fire Department and the ATF executed arrest and search warrants for Vigneau, who is a resident of the Stratford Building, also known as part of the Southern Towers complex, located at 4901 Seminary Road in Alexandria.

"There were no injuries reported, but these fires caused extensive fear and anxiety on the part of the residents of the complex," Alexandria police said in a statement Thursday.

Officials said Vigneau was questioned and subsequently transported to the Alexandria Sheriff's Office Detention Center. After she was arrested, Vigneau – who has been living in the building for more than three decades – finally admitted to the crimes.

Vigneau's arrest was reportedly the result of a 10-month joint investigation between ATF and AFD.