NEW ORLEANS - Seven suspects are in custody in connection with a three-alarm fire that destroyed the historic LeBeau Plantation in Old Arabi. Firefighters responded shortly after 2:11 am Friday. When they arrived, the 159-year-old building was completely consumed by flames.
"When I received the call from fire communications, I live in Chalmette, I looked out my window and I could see the whole sky lit up," said Thomas Stone, Fire Chief in St. Bernard Parish.
"To me it wasn't a loss of a building, it was like a family member," said Jimmy Delery, a long time St. Bernard Parish Resident.
Chief Stone quickly labeled the fire as suspicious. He pointed to the fact that the LeBeau Plantation had been vacant for many years and lacked gas or electricity. Less than 12 hours after the fire broke out, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann and detectives were making arrests. In all, seven suspects were taken into custody. Authorities have not released the suspects' identities. Their ages range from 17-31.
"We initially had one guy we interviewed, and we ended up learning there were six other individuals involved, who somehow and for some reason returned back to the parish and we were able to apprehend those guys," said Sheriff Pohlmann.
Detectives say the suspects entered the mansion to drink and smoke drugs. According to detectives, the group was drawn to the house because of its history of being haunted. Investigators say at some point before setting a fire inside the plantation, the suspects tried "summoning spirits".
"It was an old house and legend has it that it was haunted," said Aileen Kelly, a resident of Old Arabi.
Aileen Kelly says the LeBeau Plantation was fixture in the community. It seemed that every person who came by to snap photos of the smoky rubble on Friday had some kind of childhood memory of the old house, which was built in 1854. For more than a century and a half, the mansion was used for several purposes including a hotel, casino and private residence. It withstood the test of time, but it could not survive a group of seven looking for a good time and apparently ghosts.