The 20-year-old man accused of starting a fire that left 130 Charlotteans homeless this week is an undocumented immigrant and will likely be deported no matter the outcome of his trial for arson and attempted murder.
Jesus Reyes Lopez is a Mexican citizen and is wanted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for being in the country illegally, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office said. That means he will face deportation at the end of any prison sentence imposed by the courts over the apartment fire.
If he is found innocent of all charges, Lopez will immediately be taken into custody by ICE agents for deportation.
Lopez was arrested Thursday in connection with the fire, and faces two counts of attempted murder, arson and damage to property by use of an incendiary device charges. He made his first court appearance Thursday and was appointed an attorney. His bond hearing will be Aug. 2, court officials said.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Police believe Lopez intentionally set the fire Monday morning at the Woodscape apartments on Farm Pond Lane. Fire investigators say 40 apartments were damaged by the fire, which left 130 people homeless.
Sources told TV station WSOC that Lopez was targeting an ex-girlfriend as an act of revenge and that the fire got out of control.
The Red Cross is working to find housing for the 130 people displaced by the fire. As of Thursday, none had found a new place to live, agency officials said. The Red Cross is coordinating a community effort to find new homes for the families. Until then, many are staying at a Red Cross shelter or in the homes of friends and family.
The fire, first reported at 12:56 a.m. Monday, caused $1.3 million in damage.
Seven people were hospitalized after trying to escape the fire. Some families even jumped out of windows from second and third floor units to avoid the flames.
Lopez has no prior arrests in North Carolina, according to court records. His lack of legal status was uncovered as part of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office’s participation in the 287(g) program, which calls for checking the immigration status of all inmates brought into the county jail.
Mecklenburg County has participated in the program since 2006.
In that time, Sheriff Irwin Carmichael said, the department has discovered it was holding undocumented immigrants who were wanted for felony child abuse, murder and possessing a weapon of mass destruction. As a result of such arrests, Carmichael believes participating in 287(g) makes both his staff and the community safer.
In the 2016 fiscal year, 1,241 foreign nationals went through the county program and 100 were deported, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said earlier this year.