A ‘random black guy’ set his girlfriend’s house on fire, he told police

Jose Bernando Rosas Madrigal
Jose Bernando Rosas Madrigal Polk County Sheriff’s Office

When detectives confronted Jose Bernando Rosas Madrigal, 19, with surveillance video of his truck outside his girlfriend’s Florida home shortly before a fire broke out Nov. 24, he had an explanation.

He told them he’d driven past the home and spotted a “random black guy” setting the blaze, WFLA reported. His alibi appears not to have convinced Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives, who arrested Madrigal on Nov. 25 on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree arson and possession of alcohol by a minor.

Investigators say Madrigal spread flammable fluid on the Polk City, Fla., house, particularly his girlfriend’s bedroom. He also spread flammable liquid on canoes and vehicles, detectives said, and drew a heart on a fence.

His 17-year-old girlfriend and her parents, who were home at the time, escaped injury and the blaze was extinguished.

Before the blaze, Madrigal had sent his girlfriend several messages on Snapchat threatening to burn down her house, detectives told WFLA. They also found searches on his phone for topics such as “can you start charcoal with gasoline house on fire” and “x outside the house to burn up house.”

Madrigal initially told detectives that he was at his mother’s house in Auburndale, Fla., at the time of the fire, reported The Ledger. Confronted with the surveillance video, Madrigal then said he’d driven past his girlfriend’s house several times after their argument to check on her and saw a “random black guy” running away after setting the fire. He told detectives that he didn’t know what to do, so he just drove away.

Later, Madrigal told detectives that his brother had set the fire and that he had assisted him with searching the internet for tips on starting blazes, the newspaper said. A bottle of vodka was found in Madrigal’s truck.

Margaret Elkins, a neighbor of Madrigal’s girlfriend, told WFLA that Madrigal had turned up while residents and neighbors fought the fire.

“He was standing beside me, and he said, ‘usually the one that does it comes back to see what all the excitement is about,’ ” Elkins told WFLA.