Prosecutors: Man, outraged over missing Social Security payment, set Thompson Center fire

A Chicago man poured gasoline along the north end of the Thompson Center and set it ablaze Thursday afternoon because he had not received Social Security (SSI) check, prosecutors said.

Lawrence Reed, 44, is accused of starting the fire at 2:15 p.m., as Gov. JB Pritzker was preparing to hold his daily COVID-19 press conference inside the building. Prosecutors did not indicate that Pritzker was targeted or that Reed knew the governor may have been present.

Reed first entered the Thompson Center around 11 a.m. Thursday via CTA, according to allegations made in bond court Saturday. He approached a CTA worker at the Clark-Lake station kiosk and asked for his SSI check. He left the station, returned around 12:30 p.m. and again asked the same employee for his SSI check.

He allegedly returned a third time at 2:10 p.m. with two red containers. Witnesses reported seeing him walk along the north wall of the Thompson Center while pouring a liquid from the containers. Fire investigators later determined the liquid was gasoline, according to prosecutors.

Lawrence Reed | CPD

An assistant state’s attorney said Saturday that Reed set the liquid on fire while people were plainly visible inside the building.

A Chicago police commander assigned to Pritzker’s security detail saw the flames when he stopped for a nearby red light. The officer caught up with Reed on Wacker Drive and took him into custody, according to a police report. A lighter was allegedly found in Reed’s jacket pocket.

Prosecutors said Reed admitted to starting the fire because he had not received his SSI payment. Two witnesses allegedly identified him as the person who set the fire.

The fire damaged aluminum framing on the exterior of the Thompson Center and caused ten to fifteen glass panels to crack, according to prosecutors.

Reed is on probation for two criminal damage to property convictions, prosecutors said. He has seven felony and 11 misdemeanor convictions as well as two pending misdemeanor cases, according to the state. He is also awaiting trial for allegedly punching two women in the face at random in the Loop on Feb. 28.

His defense attorney said Reed is unable to work, relies on SSI, and has four children,

Prosecutors charged Reed with felony aggravated arson. Judge Arthur Willis ordered him held without bail.

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