NORTHAMPTON, Mass. — A 25-year-old Northampton resident was arraigned Tuesday for the arsons that killed two men in the city in the early morning of Dec. 27.
Anthony Baye, a 2003 graduate of Northampton High School, lives on Hawley Street, which is in the same neighborhood where about a dozen fires were set in a 75-minute period.
Baye was brought into Northampton District Court — in front of several of the fire victims and survivors — for an arraignment on two counts of murder, one count of arson and one count of armed burglary.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Cahillane presented the charges to Judge Richard Carey. He said that police questioned Baye downtown on the night of the fires, that he smelled of alcohol and that he claimed to be visiting his girlfriend — an alibi they later disproved.
“During the course of interviews with investigators, [Baye] admitted that he lied during his initial interview,” Cahillane said, “that he was present at 17 Fair St., that he did enter onto the enclosed porch and that he lit a small fire on the porch.”
Seventeen Fair St. is the site of the fatal fire that killed Paul Yeskie Sr. and his son Paul Jr. The district attorney’s office, which assembled a joint task force of local, state and federal investigators, reports that Baye used a cigarette lighter to ignite materials on the Yeskie’s porch, causing a fire that quickly spread. The lighter is being considered a weapon in the armed burglary charge.
District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel later said that investigators believe Baye is also responsible for about a dozen other fires set that night, including homes and cars. “While Mr. Baye is arrested solely for the 17 Fair St. fire, I anticipate additional charges in the coming weeks,” Scheibel said.
Baye pled not guilty through his court-appointed attorney. If he is convicted of all charges, Baye faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.
Scheibel said she did not want to release details on the circumstances of his arrests, which occurred at the Northampton police station on Monday night. She did say the arrest came about as a result of around-the-clock police work, the use of surveillance cameras and tips from the public.
“We received close to 300 tips on this investigation,” Scheibel said. “The information was critical to helping us solve this case. This investigation is ongoing, so I will not comment on a possible motive, except to say that it appears to be a random spree.”
The community of Northampton has been abuzz since the arrest of Baye, who was a cook at the Sierra Grille restaurant in the city’s downtown, where owners described him as a hard, earnest worker.
Baye maintained an active Facebook page with 350 friends, and one of his most recent online activities was to join the Facebook page called “Friends of the Northampton Arson Victims.” One of those victims is Naomi Cairns, whose house was among those burned, and who attended the arraignment.
“It’s weird to see a person — a real person, with jeans on, and someone who’s in my age group, who maybe I would have said hi to,” Cairns said. “You always want to put a face to something this terrifying. I just wish I could talk to him and look in his eyes and ask: How does it feel to do something like that and do you understand what you’ve done?”
Another fire victim, Julie Robbins, whose car was set ablaze, said she was emotionally shaken after the arraignment. “You know, you expect a monster, and here’s a 25-year-old kid and he destroyed lives and he could’ve destroyed our lives and look what he did to this town,” Robbins said.
The town has been on edge since the fires, with many residents starting neighborhood watches, leaving on outside lights at night and taking other safety precautions.
Mayor Clare Higgins, speaking at a press conference, said city residents should now feel some relief, but not complacency. “We have an arrest, but there is no conviction. It is important to remain vigilant. Everything you were going to do to stay safe you should do today and tomorrow,” she said. “This incident unfortunately showed us our vulnerability and how we need to take care of each other.”
Anthony Baye is being held without bail. A plea hearing is scheduled for March 5.