The person charged with arson in a downtown Hillsboro fire has also been charged with murder after a deceased person was found at the scene several weeks later.
The initial fire broke out in the early hours of Jan. 2 at the Weil Arcade building on East Main Street. More than 20 downtown businesses were impacted, with several of them seriously damaged, according to fire officials. “The fire started in January, and it was still burning for almost a week,” Hillsboro Police Sgt. Clint Chrz said.
Three days later, Hillsboro Police detectives arrested Roel Leon, 34, for arson. Chrz said initially, police and fire and rescue investigators didn’t think anyone was in the building at the time of the fire because it was outside of normal business hours.
But in early February, investigators were notified of surveillance footage showing a man entering the Weil Arcade building before the fire started.
Officials deployed cadaver dogs within a few days and ultimately discovered the remains of 40-year old Ronald William Knapp in the fire debris on Feb. 7, more than five weeks after the initial fire.
“Mr. Knapp was, we believe, a homeless person who had gained access to the building through what appears to be an unlocked door, and was sleeping there for the night,” Chrz said.
The official cause of death was smoke inhalation.
Chrz said Knapp was reported missing out of Forest Grove on Feb. 2.
The discovery of the victim was delayed due to safety concerns with the building. The street-facing wall of the building was unstable, sparking fears it would collapse.
“There were numerous conversations with engineers about how to best stabilize that,” Chrz said. “So we proceeded with caution on that before the investigators could go in.”
Police have not identified a motive or the means by which the fire was started.
Leon was arraigned on a grand jury indictment on Tuesday for second-degree murder and an additional first-degree arson charge. He is currently in custody at the Washington County Jail.