Indiana's Lake County police start fund for cop who lost home in arson

Lynwood officer’s three children escaped Dec. 20 blaze that killed their 6 pets

By Mary Owen | Chicago Tribune reporter
January 7, 2009

It was no secret that Kelly Johnson was a police officer. She wore her Lynwood Police Department uniform when she left the house and often parked a squad car in her driveway.

Neighbors told her they felt safe when her squad car was there. But now the patrol officer said she and her family don’t feel secure after their home in Dyer, Ind., was destroyed in a fire.

The Dyer man charged in the Dec. 20 arson allegedly stood and watched the fire and later told police he set the blaze, in part, because he doesn’t like cops.

“We’re supposed to be proud of what we do,” Johnson said. “When someone like this uses it against you, it’s just wrong.”

To help the Johnson family, the Lake County Police Department in Indiana has started the Kelly Johnson Benefit Fund. The single mother was already scraping by since she had been on disability for months because of a knee injury she suffered while answering a police call.

But now, the family has lost nearly everything.

Johnson was not at the raised bungalow during the 2 a.m. fire, but her three children—ages 11, 14 and 17—escaped with cuts, burns and smoke inhalation. The family’s five dogs and cat died in the blaze in the 9200 block of Sheffield Street.

Lake County Police Chief Marco Kuyachich, whose officers responded to the scene, said he wanted to help even though Johnson has no connections to the department.

“She lives in our community, and she’s a police officer,” he said. “She’s one of us.”

Christopher Costello, 23, who lives near the Johnson home has been charged with three counts of attempted murder and one count of arson. Investigators first spoke to Costello the night of the fire when he was standing watching the blaze, officials said.

Two days later, he admitted to starting the fire with his Zippo lighter and a nearby trash can, Kuyachich said.

Costello told police he set the fire because he was angry about being rebuffed by a woman at a nearby bar earlier that night, Kuyachich said. He allegedly said he didn’t like police officers and knew a female police officer lived in the house. He also said he knew the children were inside and watched the fire burn for at least 15 minutes, Kuyachich said.

Johnson, a Lynwood police officer for six years, was nearby at a friend’s house wrapping Christmas gifts. She said her children called her on her cell phone after they had escaped through windows. The family is staying with relatives in the area so her children can go to school.

A Lake County judge ordered Costello held in lieu of $200,000 bail.

People can donate to the fund by contacting the Lynwood Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 287, the First National Bank of Illinois in Lynwood or a First Midwest Bank in Indiana.

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