WORCESTER — In the predawn darkness of Dec. 9, Momoh Kamara left his mother’s house in West Boylston and rode to Worcester in an Uber, which dropped him off near Clark University at about 2:30 a.m.
As surveillance cameras recorded his movements, Kamara, 21, then walked to Lowell Street where he had once lived in a six-unit apartment building, a prosecutor Friday. Within 90 minutes, the residence was on fire. Worcester firefighter Christopher Roy, 36, drove Ladder 4 to the scene from the Webster Square fire station, but died after becoming trapped on the second floor.
On Friday, prosecutors announced Kamara started the fire in the basement of 5-7 Lowell St. and then left the neighborhood, summoning a Lyft at about 4:30 a.m. to take him back to West Boylston. Roy, a single father raising a 9-year-old daughter, Ava, died from smoke inhalation after the air in his air tank ran out, according to Worcester Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey T. Travers.
Worcester police arrested Kamara, who was arraigned in Worcester Superior Court on charges of second-degree murder, arson, armed burglary, and malicious damage to a motor vehicle. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail as dozens of Worcester firefighters looked on from the courtroom gallery.
Prosecutors didn’t specify a motive for Kamara’s alleged crimes beyond saying he had been asked to leave the apartment sometime before the fire and had a disagreement with roommates over the “disposition of property.” No information was released about how the fires were set.
Worcester Fire Chief Michael Lavoie said city firefighters are struggling to cope with the death of Roy, who served with the department for 2½ years.
“While we are heartened that Mr. Kamara will face justice, our department is still devastated by the loss of our brother firefighter Christopher Roy,” Lavoie said at a news conference held before Kamara’s arraignment. “The last three months have been extremely difficult for all of us as we continue to mourn his loss.”
The fire was reported to authorities at 3:58 a.m., sending firefighters into the basement where Travers said they extinguished multiple fires.
Roy was among six firefighters who went to the second floor to investigate a report of another fire, Travers said.
Flames on the second floor spread, blocking the staircase the six firefighters climbed when they entered the residence, he said. As signals alerted firefighters that the air supply in their tanks was low, four of the firefighters escaped through a window and climbed down a ladder to safety, Travers said.
Roy and a second firefighter tried to escape through a different window at the rear of the building, he said. The second firefighter made it out, but Roy was overcome by smoke inhalation before rescuers could pull him to safety, Travers said.
Kamara’s court-appointed attorney, Blake Rubin, said his client denies the allegations. His next court date is April 24.
“He’s obviously devastated by these charges. He’s extremely upset,” Rubin said.
Travers said investigators collected surveillance video showing a man walking from Clark University to Lowell Street, arriving there at about 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 9. The same man was videotaped leaving Lowell Street within minutes of when police and firefighters began to arrive at 4:04 a.m., Travers said.
Police pinpointed the spot where the man was dropped off in Worcester, and determined he had hired an Uber driver to take him to the city, Travers said. Investigators interviewed the Uber driver and reviewed company records and bank statements that link Kamara to the trip, he said.
They reviewed the same documents for Lyft, the ride service Kamara hired to take him back to West Boylston, Travers said.
Rubin questioned the strength of the evidence against Kamara and said his client hasn’t lived on Lowell Street for months.
“This is clearly a circumstantial case as opposed to a case of direct evidence,” he said. “What I didn’t hear was any forensic evidence, which I’m sure would completely change the character of this case.”
Rubin said Kamara moved to Worcester in 2005 and has never been convicted of a crime. Court records show he was born in Sierra Leone.
Kamara didn’t speak in court beyond entering not guilty pleas. One of the indictments charges him with malicious damage to a motor vehicle for an incident that occurred on March 23, 2018.
Kamara is accused of breaking windows and slashing tires of a 2005 Pontiac G6, court records show.
In 2017, the mother of Kamara’s 2-year-old daughter secured a restraining order against him following an argument, court records show. During the confrontation, the woman said Kamara hit her in the face multiple times and tried to strangle her, according to an affidavit filed in court.
Kamara was charged with strangulation, assault and battery of a household member, and malicious destruction of property, but the case was dismissed in February 2018, court records show.
Lavoie, the fire chief, and Michael Papagni, president of Worcester Firefighters Local 1009 said the city’s fire department will continue to do its job in the face of danger.
“I want to assure this community that our firefighters before this fire and since have exhibited the courage to answer every call for help and the bravery to get their jobs done, Papagni said. “That’s not going to change.”Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.