State - Regional

10 volunteer firefighters from Robeson County appear in court, receive bond for arson-related crimes

LUMBERTON, NC (WNCN/WBTW) - Ten volunteer firefighters have been arrested and charged in connection with several arsons in Robeson County, Sheriff Ken Sealey announced Tuesday.

The firefighters are accused of intentionally setting fire to abandoned homes and wooded areas in the community. They worked with the Fairmont Rural and the Orrum volunteer fire departments.

The arrests follow a nearly 18-month investigation, according to Sealey.

Sealy identified those arrested and charged as: 

Melquan Williams, 21, of Fairmont, NC- charges include one count of felony conspiracy and one count of felony arson for burning a house, uninhabited house, or store. Williams' bond is set at $200,000. 

Austin Seth Hunt, 23, of Rowland, NC- charges include six counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods; two counts of felony arson for burning a church, uninhabited house or store;  five counts of felony conspiracy. Hunt's bond is set at $200,000

Ashley Marie Oxendine, 18, or Orrum, NC- charges include two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods and two counts of felony conspiracy. Oxendine's bond is set at $100,000. 

John Austin Huggins, 17, Fairmont, NC- charges include two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods; two counts of felony arson for burning a church, uninhabited house, or store; four counts of felony conspiracy. Huggins' bond is set at $100,000. 

Jordan Scott, 19, of Fairmont, NC- charges include four counts felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods; five counts felony arson for burning a church, uninhabited house, or store; nine counts felony conspiracy. Scott's bond is set at $100,000. 

Kenny Caulder Jr. 19, of Fairmont, NC- charges include six counts of felony arson for burning a church, uninhabited house, or store; two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods; seven counts of felony conspiracy. Caulder's bond is set at $100,000. 

Willie Fuentes Strickland, 42, of Fairmont, NC- charges include two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods; one count of felony arson for burning a church, uninhabited house, or store; three counts of felony conspiracy. Strickland's bond is set at $100,000. 

Jordan Emmanuel Hunt, 18, of Fairmont, NC- charges include four counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods and 12 counts of felony conspiracy. Hunt's bond is set at $100,000. 

Shellia Huggins, 19, of Fairmont, NC- charges include two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods; two counts of felony arson for burning a church, uninhabited house, or store; four counts of felony conspiracy. Huggins' bond is set at $100,000. 

William Kendall Strickland, 18, of Fairmont, NC- charges including one county of misdemeanor larceny; one count of felony setting fire to grass, brush, or woods; one count of felony conspiracy. Strickland's bond is set at $100,000. 

Sealy also says Melquan Williams was a former Maxton police officer. 

Jerry Higgins, with the NC Department of Corrections, confirms Tabor Correctional Institution Correctional Officer Austin Seth Hunt was arrested on Tuesday by the Robeson County Sheriff's Office. Hunt was hired on January 22. 

"The firefighters were involved in a conspiracy over a two year time period to set numerous woods fires and abandoned structure fires.," Sealey says.

Sealy said the location of the fires were: 

Eldorado Rd., Fairmont, NC

Collins Mill Rd., Fairmont, NC

Oakton Church Rd., Fairmont, NC

Atkinson Road, Fairmont, NC

Raynham Road, Fairmont, NC

Reva Road, Fairmont, NC

NC Highway 130, Fairmont, NC

Main Street, Fairmont, NC

Mitchell Rd., Fairmont, NC

Davis Road, Fairmont, NC

Happy Hill Road, Fairmont, NC

Marion Stage Road, Fairmont, NC

Pleasant Hope Road, Fairmont, NC

"I feel sad that we have firefighters that we had to go after them and charge them. We had trust in those individuals. I hate if for our fire departments," Sealy also says. 

Robeson County Sheriff's Office, State Bureau of Investigation, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the North Carolina Forestry Service assisted in the investigation, Sealey says in a press release. "There are approximately 90 arson-related charges in the investigation with more charges and individuals expected." 


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