Hoisted onto a folding chair this afternoon, 8-year-old arson survivor Safyre Terry had a message for those continuing to volunteer opening her Christmas mail.
As the volunteers hushed and Safyre’s aunt, Liz Dolder, stood by her side, Safyre yelled her message: “Thank you!”
“Your welcome!” the volunteers said in unison.
Minutes earlier, Dolder had another message to send.
That message — given without Safyre present — asked for help from the public in solving the nearly 3-year-old Hulett Street arson that maimed Safyre and killed her father and three of her siblings.
“Somebody out there knows,” Dolder said, looking at cameras as a press conference got underway. “Please come forward.”
Authorities today officially increased the reward offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the arson.
'Somebody out there knows (who set the fire). Please come forward.'
Liz Dolder, Safyre Terry's aunt
The combined reward is now $40,000, more than tripling the original figure of $12,000.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, along with the Schenectady police and fire departments and the Mohawk Valley Crime Stoppers, are putting up the reward funds.
Anyone with information can contact the ATF at (646) 335-9070 or by email at [email protected] Tips also can be sent to Mohawk Valley Crime Stoppers at (866) 730-8477, P3Tips.com or via the group’s Facebook page.
Information sent is kept confidential, officials said.
“I think today is an example of the commitment that we all have to find who committed these terrible acts,” Charlie J. Patterson, ATF assistant special agent in charge, said at the press conference as representatives of several law enforcement agencies, including Schenectady police and fire departments, flanked him.
Authorities held the press conference at the Rotterdam Industrial Park facility, which houses Safyre’s Angels, a volunteer group that is processing the estimated 1.5 million pieces of mail and Christmas cards sent to Safyre last month in a worldwide project of love.
The effort, representatives say, is well ahead of schedule and could conclude this week.
The online Christmas card effort put her story out to a worldwide audience. It also highlighted that the fire that severely injured Safyre and killed members of her family remains unsolved.
What investigators and family want to know: Who set fire to 438 Hulett St. just after 4 a.m. on May 2, 2013.
Safyre lost her father, David Terry, 32, sister Layah, 3, and brothers Michael, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months. Safyre, found by firefighters in her father’s arms, suffered severe injuries and underwent a long recovery that continues.
Safyre has lived with her aunt and uncle, Liz and Michael Dolder, in Rotterdam since coming home from the hospital in early 2014.
While the arson itself remains unsolved, two people have been accused of lying to the federal grand jury investigating it.
Edward Leon, 43, of St. Johnsville, has been convicted of lying to the grand jury about his whereabouts the morning of the fire and about threatening text messages sent to David Terry.
The second person charged is Jennica Duell, Safyre’s biological mother. Duell, who turns 28 this month, is awaiting trial, accused of lying to authorities during the investigation.
Leon is awaiting sentencing in March for his two perjury convictions and faces up to 10 years in prison.
The federal jury found Leon was, in fact, in Schenectady the morning of the fire and that he sent David Terry anonymous threatening messages in the days and weeks leading up to the blaze.
According to a recorded interrogation played at trial, Leon admitted to authorities that he traveled to the city to find Terry’s residence with the intent of confronting him over a woman in common. Terry dated Leon’s former girlfriend.
Leon went so far as to admit in the interrogation to being in front of the Hulett Street house just before neighbors reported the fire, standing across the street and seeing the fire.
Despite his admissions, Leon denies setting the blaze.
The perjury count against Duell relates to a different part of the investigation, the one involving the initial suspect, Robert A. Butler.
Butler, then 27, spent nine months in federal custody on a federal charge of arson resulting in death, accused of starting the deadly blaze.
Duell initially gave a detailed account in which she described being with Butler when she said he set the fire. Authorities freed him in February 2014 after the emergence of information related to Leon, and after Duell recanted her testimony against Butler.
Duell’s attorneys have argued she fabricated her initial account against Butler under pressure from authorities.
They arrested her in November 2014; she has been in custody since. Her trial is set for May.
Patterson did not reference either perjury case today, saying only that the arson investigation remains open and ongoing.
Who he did reference: Safyre and her family.
“That’s the main thing we want to do, bring closure to this family,” Patterson said. “And bring those who are responsible for this heinous act to justice.”