Did Protesters Set Fire to a Building with a Child Inside?

Conflicting accounts from city officials made this widely shared story even more troubling.

  • Published 4 June 2020
  • Updated 4 June 2020

Claim

Demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd intentionally set fire to a home with a child inside and blocked firefighters from responding.

Rating

Origin

Amid ongoing national protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck, Snopes readers asked about a disturbing account of an incident in Richmond, Virginia, that occurred on May 31, 2020.

The story circulated on a number of news sites, but most inquiring readers asked about a version published by the right-leaning news outlet The Washington Times on June 2. The headline read, “Richmond police chief says rioters blocked firefighters from burning home with child inside.”

In an emotional press conference on May 31, Richmond Police Chief Will Smith stated:

Protesters intentionally set a fire to an occupied building on Broad Street. This is not the only occupied building that has been set fire to over the last two days. But they prohibited us from getting on scene. We had to force our way to make a clear path for the fire department. Protestors intercepted that fire apparatus several blocks away with vehicles and blocked that fire department’s access to the structure fire. Inside that home was a child. Officers were able to help those people out of the house. We were able to get the fire department there safely.

But the Richmond Fire Department gave a different version of events.

According to Richmond Fire Lt. Christopher Armstrong, demonstrators did not set fire to the house, which was located on North Monroe Street, not Broad Street. Armstrong said that a car fire spread to the house and only affected the exterior of the building. When fire crews arrived, the occupants of the house were already safe outside and were unharmed. Armstrong said the cause of the car fire is currently undetermined.

And finally, protesters didn’t use vehicles to stop the fire truck from proceeding to the blaze, Armstrong said. Fire equipment was slowed en route by burning trash cans. Armstrong told us by email:

There was a single protestor initially impeding our response however multiple individuals (amount undetermined) joined the single protestor in stopping the truck from after it was already stopped. At least two of individuals threw objects at the fire truck, shortly thereafter they all ran past the fire truck as Richmond Police Officers came around the corner as a response for our request for help.

In response to our questions asking why the police chief and Fire Department gave differing version of events, Richmond police responded saying, “We don’t have details on the fire rescue – everyone is extremely busy with on-going protests.”

Because the Fire Department and the police chief provided different versions of events for reasons yet unknown to us, we rate this clam “Unproven.”