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Suspect in custody in Miami apartment shooting, 3-alarm fire

Three firefighters were sent to the hospital during what Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called one of the worst fires in decades

By David J. Neal, Grethel Aguila, Milena Malaver, David Goodhue
Miami Herald

MIAMI — A man shot another man and set fire to a Miami apartment building Monday morning, sending five people to the hospital, including three firefighters. The blaze took about eight hours and 126 people to extinguish, city officials said.

The three-alarm fire at the 61-unit building was one of the worst in the city in decades, said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

The fire displaced 43 people. The property management company is putting them up in hotel rooms for the next two weeks, Suarez said at a media briefing Monday night.

When Miami firefighters and police officers arrived at the Temple Court Apartments, 431 NW Third St., on Monday morning, they found the complex engulfed in smoke and flames — and a building worker with a gunshot wound inside.

Suarez told reporters that police have one person in custody who he said shot the man and started the fire. Police later named the man as 73-year-old Juan Francisco Figueroa.

The discovery of the wounded man added more mystery to the three-alarm fire, which led to the rescue of dozens of people, many of them low-income elderly, from the burning four-story building.

The fire started just after 8:30 a.m. When firefighters arrived, they found the man shot in the torso, according to radio transmissions.

Mayor Suarez said the person who was shot was taken to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in critical condition.

Firefighters continued to douse the building late into Monday afternoon. They said the fire was under control and not likely to spread again.

County property records list the building’s owner as Dallas-based AHF Temple Court LLC, which purchased the complex in 2019 for $6.7 million. State corporate records say AHF Temple Court, Atlantic Housing Foundation and Atlantic Housing Management are all run out of the same Dallas office. Temple Court has studio and one-bedroom apartments, 290 to 470 square feet, according to its website.

In a statement, Atlantic Housing Management confirmed that the man shot was a Temple Court employee.

“We are still determining the cause of these events, and we are checking for other injuries,” the statement said. “Police are investigating, and we will help in whatever ways we can. We are working with the Red Cross, which has brought drinks and snacks to help our displaced residents. We are also working to provide meals and a place to stay for those who have been affected.”

Josefa Morales, an 83-year-old woman who has been living in a second-floor apartment for about two years, with rent of about $200 a month, said the man who was shot is a maintenance worker known for helping residents.

“Everybody in the building loves him a lot,” she said.

A chaotic scene

The first calls about the fire came in around 8:15 a.m. Radio transmissions also detailed the panic inside the complex, with residents reporting that they were trapped in their homes. Suarez said firefighters “rescued several people, including several people who were rescued from their balconies.”

“I was in my bathroom, just cleaning, when I heard banging on the door, and it was the firefighters yelling about the fire,” Morales said.

About 40 people, according to fire officials, were rescued from the building, which primarily housed elderly residents. First responders are working with the American Red Cross to account for everyone who lived there.

The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at a park gymnasium for people who don’t have anywhere else to go. Morales was also at Jose Marti Park, waiting for her son to pick her up.

“I didn’t have time to grab anything,” she said. “But I think I lost everything in the fire.”

Miami Fire Rescue Lt. Pete Sanchez said firefighters “went to a defensive strategy because it’s too dangerous for firefighters to work inside at this point.”

In addition to the man shot, another resident was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, and three firefighters were hospitalized in stable condition “for further evaluation,” Sanchez said. They were discharged Monday night, Sanchez said.

As for those evacuated from the building, Suarez said they would be taken a mile away to Jose Marti Park, 351 SW Fourth Ave., “to give them food and whatever medicine they need.”

“I’ve had an opportunity to speak to them and they seem in relatively good spirits given, obviously, the situation that is incredibly difficult for them and their families,” the mayor said. “This is the first three-alarm fire in 25 years.”

Sanchez said two units from the fire department would remain at the scene overnight to extinguish any spot fires that may occur.

The fire is now being investigated by the Miami Fire Investigation Unit, Miami police, and The State Fire Marshal’s office, said Sanchez.

©2024 Miami Herald.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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