(Shelby County, TN) A 14-year-old boy has been arrested and charged after admitting he set a fire that killed his mother Friday morning.
Jonathan Ray told investigators he “set the fire after an earlier disagreement with his mother.”
Ray, who attends Southwind High School, was arguing with his mother over his school suspension, according to friends.
He has been charged with First Degree Murder and Aggravated Arson. The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office will determine whether to try him as an adult.
Gwendolyn Wallace, 45, was killed in the fire at 4703 Bethay Dr.
James Wallace, her husband of almost five years, said he was in shock. He spoke to his stepson Friday afternoon.
“We’re hurting; we know he’s hurting. But we love him. We’re not going to abandon him, I’m not that kind of parent,” he said.
He and others told News Channel 3 they don’t believe it was ever Ray’s intent to kill his mother.
“We think it was more of an attention-getter for himself. But then when the fire got away from him, it was too late,” Wallace said.
He said Ray was suspended from Southwind High School for acting out and getting into an argument. Ray was supposed to return to school Friday.
One classmate, Daunica Granville, said Jonathan Ray has a wonderful sense of humor.
On the other hand, “When he gets mad, that’s a whole other side of him. But I would never imagine him getting that far,” she said.
Neighbor Derek Graham noticed the smoke Friday morning and tried to beat down the door.
“I saw the truck in there, so I knew someone had to be at home. I got out my truck, ran up the drive, then I could see from the front door that there was fire on the staircase so I started banging and scream, banging and screaming, calling 911.”
After learning of Ray’s arrest, Graham said, “He was in a state of shock. He was screaming, ‘where’s my mom, where’s my mom?’ And I said, well where is your mom, son?”
A spokesperson for the Shelby County Fire Department said she was found upstairs, unresponsive.
No one else was home when the flames broke out.
Graham and his wife welcomed Ray and the entire family into their home, even providing them a Bible. They said the teenager was subdued and did not say a word about what had happened.
Mary Jones, whose brother is Gwendolyn Wallace’s former husband, said of her son, “He loved his mother. He had the best of everything. He was her world. He was her complete world. So it just doesn’t make sense.”