KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — After allegations that a Kalamazoo community leader conspired to burn down a building she owns, questions about a 1998 fatal fire are being raised.
Lola Atkinson, 69, is an officer in the local NAACP. She and alleged accomplice Elvis Patterson, 56, face felony charges of conspiracy to commit arson and attempted arson for trying to burn down one of her properties.
Last week, Patterson was caught in the act in the 1300 block of North Park Street, police say, after they were tipped off about the planned arson.
“It is fairly unique how everything played out,” Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Jeff Hadley said about the sting.
Hadley said KDPS has initiated the process — which will likely be a long one — of looking into Atkinson’s other properties and any suspicious fires.
She also owned a house that was set on fire in 1998, 24 Hour News 8 learned. A 5-year-old boy was killed in that blaze.
“I certainly understand those suspicions, but I certainly think everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt until were able to prove otherwise, and Ms. Atkinson is no different relative to that,” Hadley said. “But we certainly will look at it and determine whether there’s anything we can prove beyond what we know now.”
Atkinson could face up to 20 years prison for the charges she currently faces. If she is connected to the 1998 fatal arson or any other fires, she could face more charges.
She and Patterson both posted bond last week after being charged.
24 Hour News 8 went to Atkinson’s home Thursday to request comment, but she did not want to speak. She peeked her head out from behind a wall and waved our crew away.