SPRING HILL — On their first night in the rental home, the girls were overwhelmed by the smell of gasoline. On the second night, they noticed several plants in the house had been damaged from something being spilled on them.
The next evening, the rental home at 9010 McCormick St. was gutted by a suspicious fire.
Hernando authorities now believe they have found the people responsible for the blaze and the preceding mischief.
Daniel Lee Murray, 18, and Anthony Roberts, 17, students at Nature Coast Technical High School, were arrested Tuesday in connection with the fire set in the home March 12. The teens each face felony charges of arson and residential burglary.
Murray, a former Nature Coast football player charged in a string of burglaries last summer, remained behind bars at the Hernando County Jail on Wednesday. He was in custody in lieu of $18,000 bail. It wasn't clear if Roberts was still in custody.
A Hernando County Sheriff's Office report said Murray and Roberts went into the home March 12 with a container of gasoline, poured the liquid on the floor and used a lighter to ignite the gas. Both teens suffered minor burns to their legs in the fire, the report said.
One of the home's occupants, Elsa Guarino, 18, was sleeping in a bedroom during the blaze but escaped unharmed. She lived in the rental house with three other female roommates — all Nature Coast High seniors — who weren't home at the time.
Investigators estimated damage to the four-bedroom, two-bath concrete block house at $80,000 to $90,000.
Evidence at the scene and accounts from several witnesses provided information that led to the arrests of Murray and Roberts, said Sgt. Donna Black, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.
Deputies said Murray set the fire because he did not want his girlfriend to live at the house with the roommates.
But the girl, who didn't want to be identified, told investigators she was no longer dating Murray.
"He still considers her to be his" girlfriend, Black said. "But she doesn't."
Even before the blaze, the girls had noticed a number of suspicious incidents shortly after moving into the home.
The girls smelled gasoline in the home March 10 and they noticed the damaged plants the next day.
Shortly after the fire, they noticed that one of the sliding glass doors in the back of the house had been removed and placed on a concrete pad behind the house. The girls also said they found a small pile of burned leaves inside a room in the house, and an empty gas can nearby.
One of the roommates said dresser drawers inside a bedroom appeared to have had been rifled through.
Guarino didn't respond to a message left on her cell phone Wednesday.
Murray, listed on the online Nature Coast football roster as a 5-foot-11, 162-pound senior, was arrested in connection with a string of burglaries in Spring Hill in late July. He was sentenced to three years of probation in December.
Roberts has no prior criminal record in Hernando.
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6120.