Five people charged with setting fires inside Walmart in Mississippi, Alabama

Published 9:28 pm Thursday, February 24, 2022

Five suspects in a series of arsons at several Gulf Coast Walmart stores were arrested Thursday after a grand jury indictment.

The Wednesday indictment identifies those arrested as Jeffery Sikes, 40, also known as Kenneth Allen; Sean Bottorff, 37, also known as Sean McFarland; Michael Bottorff, 21; Quinton Olson, 21; and Alexander Olson, 23. All five are from Kearney, Nebraska.

At an arraignment later Thursday, each man declared his intent to plead not guilty to all charges of conspiracy to maliciously destroy by fire, which carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Sikes and Alexander Olson face additional charges of malicious destruction by fire.

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Magistrate Judge Sonja F. Bivens set a detention hearing for Wednesday to determine the conditions under which any of them may be released pending trial. After each man declared he had little to no money or other assets, Bivens said each qualified for a court-appointed defense attorney and individual lawyers were assigned, news outlets reported.

The indictment accuses the five of taking part in a conspiracy “to affect interstate and foreign commerce by maliciously setting fires to damage and destroy Walmart stores and the property within them. Specifically, the fires were maliciously set to force Walmart, Inc. to meet demands related to interstate and foreign commerce set forth by the conspirators in their manifesto.”

The indictment also details arsons at a Walmart in Mobile on May 27, 2021, a store in Tillman’s Corner on May 28, 2021, and at stores in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, on June 4, 2021.

According to the indictment, various participants — including at least one woman — used accelerants such as lighter fluid to set racks of clothing and other materials on fire. It also cites in-store security camera footage and cellphone data to identify the participants’ movements.

Some of cellphone data included a burner phone used to take pictures of a six-page manifesto titled “Declaration of War and Demands for the People,” which the indictment says was “supposedly written by a group called ‘The Veterans Order.’”

Sikes is described as a federal fugitive who disappeared from Nebraska before a 2018 sentencing hearing for wire fraud. He was using the alias Kenneth Allen while living in Gulf Shores. The indictment says that Sean Bottorff, who is Sikes’ brother-in-law, disappeared at the same time along with his wife and an unrelated adult female, neither of whom is named in the indictment.

The indictment says that at the time of the fires, the five defendants and three adult females lived in a rental house in Lillian, an unincorporated community in Alabama.