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Reading man burned in apartment fire he started, police say

The 31-year-old, allegedly six drinks deep at the time, refused treatment at the scene “because he wanted a cigarette.”
Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 4:56 PM EST
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READING, Ohio (WXIX) - A series of threats a Reading man made to his ex-fiancée culminated when the man set fire to his own apartment, burning himself in the process, according to police.

The fire in the 12-unit apartment building on Gahl Terrace displaced 16 residents, fire officials say.

Reading fire companies arrived around 11 p.m. on Nov. 22 to find Robert Russell’s third-floor apartment fully engulfed in flames, Reading Police Officer Daniel Flottemesch says in an affidavit.

Russell, 31, suffered burns to his lower back and was escorted to paramedics but initially refused treatment “because he wanted a cigarette,” according to Flottemesch.

“Russell admitted to drinking [six] Mike’s Hard Lemonade alcoholic beverages this evening and stated the fire was due to negligence of a cigarette,” Flottemesch said.

The ensuing investigation found Russell had been feuding with his ex-fiancée over custody of his 3-year-old son, whom he once threatened to kill, according to Flottemesch and the ex-fiancée herself, Kristen Boehner.

“He was arguing with her because she won’t let him see their son,” Flottemesch said.

Boehner told police Russell had been messaging her on Facebook throughout the day in a state of agitation.

“He was threatening to kill my entire family, including our 3-year-old son,” she said. “He sent me texts on Facebook tonight, saying how he was going to call the cops and [saying] he had a hostage so he could get shot. He then threatened to start a fire.”

Boehner says Russell sent her a picture of a small fire in his trash at 10:55 p.m. Around the same time, she received a call from her ex-neighbor saying the apartment was on fire.

One resident of the apartment building was hospitalized with serious injuries, fire officials said previously. It’s not clear if that was Russell or another resident.

Russell faces five counts of aggravated arson, one count of domestic violence and one count of telecommunications harassment.

His next court date is Dec. 6.

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