NC teen burns down house in case of mistaken identity, authorities say

North Carolina news

A teen set fire to this house in Shelby in a case of mistaken identity (WBTV)

SHELBY, N.C. (WBTV) – A teenager is charged with setting fire to a house on Forest Hill Drive in Shelby Friday morning.

Mary Beth Koelle and her boyfriend Daniel Pennington woke to the smell of smoke around 5 a.m. and knew they had to act fast.

“The occupants busted out windows in order to escape because all of their means of escape were blocked by fire so they had to go out a back window,” Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford said.

Neighbors also called 911 as they woke up to the flames.

“Please send a fire truck! Quick there’s a fire at this house,” a 911 caller said.

The couple has some cuts and bruises but they’re doing OK.

Throughout the investigation, they learned this was arson, but their house was not the intended target.

Zanden Jay Cox, 18, had plans that didn’t include this couple.

“There was a situation with a man and a young girl,” Ledford said. “They had been going back and forth some so we felt that was the intended target house this one was not. This happened to be sort of a mistaken identity.”

Cox is charged with first-degree arson, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and cruelty to animals after Koelle’s cat died from the fire. He was placed under a $1 million secured bond.

Police say this is his first run with the law.

“He had no problems in the past, a good kid, a good student,” Ledford said.

Investigators and disaster specialists spent time assessing the damage Monday.

Police are still looking into why it all happened and hoping people will learn a lesson from it.

“Slow down, think about the impact you can have on people,” Ledford said.

Shelby Fire Department officials say Koelle was in the middle of house remodeling when this happened and the damage could be about $50,000.

Koelle’s friend started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the rebuilding process.

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