A Bay Area guitarist and folk singer was one of two men arrested Monday on suspicion of setting a string of fires in Alameda that ravaged local businesses and caused $3 million in damages.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, friends were “stunned” to learn that Stephen Michael Petersen, 27, had been arrested in connection with starting the fires. Petersen adheres to a strict vegan diet, hosts an open mic night in Alameda, and is a “well-liked” musician, according to those who know him.
“I’ve known him for five years and consider him a friend,” Jesse Strickman told the Chronicle. “He’s a very nice guy. He is extreme, but I don’t think he would do anything that would hurt anyone.”
According to an earlier Chronicle report, eight fires within a seven-city-block radius were started by two arsonists early Sunday morning. The arsonists reportedly set fire to trash bins and an apartment building, but the fires spread to several area businesses. Five businesses were ultimately affected by the blazes, some burned beyond repair.
No injuries were reported in the fires, according to the report. Shorty before 2 a.m., four sleeping children managed to escape a fire set at their two-story duplex. That blaze alone was said to have caused $300,000 in damages.
One of Petersen’s self-described “closest friends” told the Chronicle he thinks police arrested the wrong man.
“It does not sound like anything my brother would be involved in,” his brother told the Chronicle. “He’s a pacifist. He abhors violence. I want to see these charges dropped, and I want to see him released.”
As recently as August 25th, Petersen had reportedly posted a message to his Facebook account describing himself as a pacifist.
Petersen is being held at Santa Rita Jail on $750,000 bond, according to the report. The other man arrested Monday, 22-year-old Andrew Resto Gutierrez, is being held on $1 million bond at the same location. No charges have been filed, although the two were scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.