UPDATE: The Houston Police Department on Friday night released the identify of the suspected arsonist who died early that morning at the intersection of West 18th Street and Watercrest Drive, where Houston Fire Department arson investigator Lemuel Bruce also died.
According to HPD, the arson suspect was 30-year-old Joshua De La Cerda. HPD said he was found dead at the scene with an “apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
Fellow arson investigators found Bruce at the scene with multiple gunshot wounds and evidence of bullet strikes on his vehicle, according to police. Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said Bruce was transported to a hospital by responding paramedics from fire station No. 62 in Timbergrove Manor and later died at the hospital.
A news release from HPD, which is investigating the incident, said Bruce was among multiple arson investigators conducting surveillance in the Heights area early Friday morning and looking for a gray or silver Hyundai Sonata. Bruce told his fellow investigators he had spotted such a vehicle “driving at a high rate of speed with the headlights off on West 18th Street near T.C. Jester Boulevard,” according to HPD.
Police said Bruce followed the gray vehicle while advising fellow arson investigators of his location. Upon arriving at the scene, the other investigators found that Bruce and De La Cerda had been shot, according to HPD.
“The investigation is continuing,” HPD said.
An arson investigator for the Houston Fire Department, along with a suspected arsonist in the Greater Heights area, both were killed in a shootout early Friday morning near the intersection of West 18th Street and Seamist Drive.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said at a Friday morning news conference that arson investigator Lemuel Bruce, 44, was shot multiple times in the upper chest and head area, transported to a hospital by members of the Timbergrove Manor fire department and pronounced dead at 4:43 a.m. Bruce was in the process of investigating the string of recent fires in the area, according to Pena, and was waiting for backup when the shootout occured.
Matt Slinkard, executive assistant chief for the Houston Police Department, said it appears only two people were involved in the shooting. He said the suspected arsonist died at the scene.
“This is a terrible incident,” Pena said. “In the history of the Houston Fire Department, we have never had an investigator shot in the line of duty.”
Pena said Bruce is survived by a wife and two children, ages 12 and 8. He had worked for the fire department for 17 years, and among the station where he served was Houston Fire Station No. 6 at 3402 Washington Ave.
There has been a series of fires in the area recently, starting early Oct. 4, when Molotov cocktails were thrown onto two residential properties on the same street in Lazybrook, according to HPD. There have been subsequent incidents in the Heights, Oak Forest and Acres Homes areas in which vehicles, sheds and trash have been set fire late at night or early in the morning.
Joshua A. Rauch, 28, was arrested Saturday and charged with second-degree arson. He is accused of starting at least seven fires early Oct. 7, mostly in the Oak Forest and Acres Homes areas.
“We don’t want to speculate whether the two (suspects) were related,” Pena said.
Slinkard said Friday morning’s shooting is being investigated by HPD as an officer-involved shooting, since arson investigators are certified peace officers in Texas. He said he did not yet know if there were witnesses to the shooting, and there is “quite a lot of evidence to go through over there for our investigators for the next several hours.”
“This is a tough day,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “It’s a tough day for (Bruce’s) family, it’s a tough day for the Houston Fire Department, it’s a tough day for the Houston Police Department and it’s a tough day for the City of Houston. But if we continue to pray and uplift one another, we’ll take it one day at a time and we’ll get through this as we continue to follow through on this investigation.”