Neighbors in fear of arson & elder abuse suspect

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Investigators say 58-year-old Tom Rouse burned down his own home, tried to set his mother's home on fire, and threatened other people as well. (KFSN)

Update: Fresno County Sheriff's Office said that Tom Rouse has now been arrested.

Fear is prevalent in a Friant neighborhood where a man who may be suffering from mental illness is blamed for two fires. Investigators say 58-year-old Tom Rouse burned down his own home, tried to set his mother's home on fire, and threatened other people as well.

Investigators say Rouse has been on a rampage recently, committing arson and elder abuse. They're hoping to catch him before he has a chance to hurt anyone else.

Soggy ash covers the floor of the mobile home where Tom Rouse lived for more than two decades. It's a self-inflicted mess, according to arson investigators, and a mess neighbors say they saw coming.

"He's scary, one neighbor told us. "He's escalating his behavior, you know."

The man didn't want to be identified, but he said Rouse was a different person this year, angrier than he was in all the time they knew each other. Some of that anger was apparently directed at his own 84-year-old mother. Sheriff's investigators say he tried to set her home on fire too Sunday before disappearing.

Action News discovered a restraining order she filed the next day, saying her son is mentally ill, violent, and a danger to everyone around him.

"She's real nervous and everything about it because she doesn't want him to hurt everybody," said Dan Rowe, a neighbor who is on the board at the Millerton Lake Mobile Home Village.

Another restraining order may reveal the reason for the recent change. Rouse had no recent criminal history until May when neighbors called about a fight and Rouse allegedly resisted arrest. But in court documents, a woman he once dated says he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and has taken medication for more than 15 years -- until he stopped earlier this year. Neighbors are sympathetic but scared nonetheless.

"It's just a bad situation," said Rowe. "All you can do is feel sorry for the guy because he's off his meds and stuff like that. You know, I mean it's a bad situation because he could hurt somebody and he's threatened to burn three or four other houses down around here."

Rouse is considered dangerous and the last known sighting of him came after the fires when someone saw him riding a blue road bike in the area of Cedar and Shepherd in northeast Fresno.
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