Playing With Fire

Even as they began sifting through the cinders in 1994, police figured they knew who set the Phillips apartment fire that nearly killed two little girls. But arson has a way of destroying all the evidence.

When Lacey recovered from the skin grafts after the fire, she returned to school, but classmates gave her a hard time and her mother had to hire a tutor. She sees a therapist every few months and takes medication for depression.

"She doesn't think about it so much any more," says Evelyn Van Wagner, "but she's different. She used to be bubbly and outgoing. Not anymore. Now she doesn't ever want to do anything. She'll never be a cheerleader, but the fire also caused a lot of emotional problems. She stopped feeling like everyone else."

When police informed Van Wagner that Douglas Hodgeman had been charged with setting the fire, she wasn't surprised. "We had had trouble with him before," she says. "What's weird is that the morning of the fire, he was the one that came over to tell me Lacey had been in the building."

Kelly Alvarado says she was shocked when Sean McKenna called to inform her that Douglas Hodgeman had been accused of setting the fire. "'Dougie? It can't be,'" she recalls telling the sergeant. "'He used to play with my kids!'"

Now Alvarado is eager to see the case closed. Like Van Wagner, she plans to attend Hodgeman's trial, and like Van Wagner, she plans to bring her daughter with her. "I need to confront them to find out why," she says. "I want them to see what they've done to her. They need to see that. She deserves it. Cissy will never grow up, never have a first date, never have children. And I'll never have my daughter back. No punishment will ever be enough."

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