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Police investigate attempted murder in Puna

Updated: 
October 26, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — Police continue to search for clues after a Puna residence was destroyed in an explosion possibly triggered by an armed home invader.

Police and firefighters responded at 7:03 p.m. Tuesday to reports of a house fire on Rainbow Drive in the Ainaloa subdivision. Nobody was injured, but a resident said an unknown intruder shot at him before the fire started.

Hawaii Police Department Lt. Miles Chong said the residence was seemingly unoccupied when one of the residents, a 35-year-old man, arrived there shortly before the incident.

Chong said the resident claimed to have entered the home, only to flee seconds later when an unknown attacker waiting within shot at him multiple times. After fleeing, an explosion outside the house caused a fire that spread throughout a large section of the building.

Puna resident Joette Nelson said she had just finished dinner before she heard what she thought were gunshots.

“I thought they were gunshots, but they sounded a bit muffled,” Nelson said. “I don’t know if that was because they were inside or if they were actually explosions or what.”

Nelson, who lives two houses north of the site of the fire, said she looked around for the source of the sounds before she saw flames reaching above the trees.

Three fire engines responded to the scene, arriving at 7:16 p.m. Firefighters were able to get the blaze under control by 7:30 p.m., completely extinguishing it at 10:20 p.m.

Chong said that, between the fire, smoke and water damage to the house was substantial. On the north side of the building, where the fire started, several walls appeared to have been burned through.

The resident’s car remained at the scene and sustained damage. Nelson said the resident attempted to move it away from the fire, but could not approach it because of the intense heat.

Chong confirmed that the fire is being treated as suspicious.

Preliminary reports from a fire inspection team and a K-9 unit reported the presence of accelerants in the rubble, Chong said, although the precise substance — whether it be kerosene, gasoline or another substance — has yet to be confirmed.

Chong said no projectiles or bullet casings were found at the scene, and no description of an intruder was forthcoming. However, the case is being treated as an attempted murder.

“I wasn’t able to sleep,” Nelson said.

Nelson said she ordered a home security system Wednesday.

“We’re all neighbors, we watch out for each other, but if there’s gunshots, I don’t want to be shot,” she said.

Chong said the 35-year-old man, his wife and three children lived at the residence with a dog, although only the man and the dog were at the scene at the time of the fire. All six are currently residing with relatives elsewhere in Puna, Chong said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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