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Child hero in fire now says he started blaze

He was hailed as a hero after alerting his family to a house fire, but it turns out an 11-year-old not only saved them from the blaze _ he started it.

Officials now say Justin Lovett was playing with matches before flames nearly destroyed his home March 9.

The boy broke down Monday while being questioned by investigators and admitted accidentally causing the blaze, his mother said. Justin had set fire to some papers in a cardboard box in the family garage, then got scared, stomped out the flames, put the box into a recycling bin and went inside.

Later, he returned to the garage to get a coloring book and crayons from the family car, George-Anna Lovett said, and found the garage in flames.

At first, the boy said he had been watching TV when he saw a light beneath the door to the garage. Ms. Lovett said the family was shocked and upset that Justin didn't tell the truth sooner.

But on the other hand, "I can't blame him for not coming forward," she said. "Everyone was calling him a hero and giving him presents. The poor kid _ he's had that on his shoulders all week long."

Ms. Lovett said investigators suspected his story early on. The door from the house to the garage is a fire door with a high threshold, and Justin could not have seen light beneath it, she said.

Sarasota County Sheriff's Lt. Bill Stookey said the blaze has been reclassified from suspicious to accidental. Justin will not be charged.