Mississippi Arson Cult Blamed for Series of Fires

Investigators in Hancock County, Mississippi believe they have uncovered an arson “cult” involving a group of at least 5 volunteer firefighters who they claim are responsible for a series of fires dating back to September, 2014.

Arrested are:

  • Marie Gill, 27, of Gulfport;
  • Korri-Don Jones, 29, of Pearlington;
  • Leslie Cheramie, 39, of Bay St. Louis.
  • Crystal Mooneyhan, 27, of Bay St. Louis,
  • Orenthial “O.J.” Smith, 33, of Bay St. Louis,

It is unclear as to why investigators are referring to the group as a “cult”. The five accused firefighters are associated with three different fire departments in the area: Clermont Harbor Volunteer Fire Department, West Hancock Volunteer Fire Department, and Kiln Volunteer Fire Department.

Gill, Mooneyhan and Smith reportedly served on the Clermont Harbor Volunteer Fire Department; Jones and Cheramie served on the West Hancock Volunteer Fire Department; and Gill also reportedly served on the Kiln Volunteer Fire Department.

Sheriff’s Investigator A.J. Gambino described the group as a “fire cult” that he believes is responsible for at least five fires. Four of the fires were wildland fires and one was set in vacant house. Gambino said that Gill appears to be the ringleader.

Gill’s husband, Michael, was quoted by the Sun-Herald as saying:

  • “I know that Marie is not an arsonist and she’s never done anything like she’s accused of”
  • “Whether it’s true or it’s not true, I believe that the justice system will work, and the truth will come out eventually,”
  • “But right now it seems that all of the other people that are involved, for whether it’s personal reasons or whatever reasons they have, it seems like they’re pointing the finger at Marie.”

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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