Arsonist sets Chicago family’s home ablaze, then admits to doing it on Citizen app live-stream

Have you heard about Citizen, the controversial app that claims to improve public safety by telling users about unverified police and fire department radio traffic? The app, which also lets users live-stream video from crime scenes, has received mixed reviews and hasn’t really helped catch many (if any) actual criminals. Until now. Kinda.

Prosecutors say a Chicago man set a family’s home on fire and then confessed to starting the blaze multiple times as he live-streamed the scene on Citizen last Thursday evening.

“I’m live on the Citizen app! Gang!” the man, identified by prosecutors as Edward Robinson, said as he streamed footage of firemen working on the burned-out remains of a three-story home’s rear porch on the 1500 block of South Christiana. The phone then spins around to reveal a man who looks very much like Edward Robinson filming himself in front of the smoking structure. Watch:

“Hey y’all. I’m gonna be honest with y’all,” the man says as a Chicago Fire Department truck rumbles nearby. “I just caused this fire with this torch in my pocket.” The man’s phone pans down to show a stick lighter poking out of his pants.

“The person recording is the reason this fire is happening,” the man identified as Robinson continues.

To ensure that no one watching the video would misunderstand, the man repeats himself moments later.

“I caused this fire with this lighter.” the man says, panning his camera from the fire to the lighter in his pants.

As he crosses the street to where bystanders and victims who lost their homes to the blaze are watching, a boy pedals up on a bicycle.

“Who did that?” the boys asks.

“Me.”

“Wow,” the boy responds.

Edward Robinson (left), and screen-grabs from the Citizen live-stream. | CPD; Citizen

A police spokesperson said a 50-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl were in one of the building’s apartments when the fire started around 6:30 p.m. Thursday. A witness rang their doorbell and told them to get out of the house because it was on fire, according to prosecutors.

All three floors of the building suffered significant damage in the blaze, which started in a dumpster and spread to the porch, according to prosecutors.

Police officers who saw the Citizen video identified Robinson as the person who repeatedly admitted to setting the blaze, prosecutors said. He was allegedly carrying a torch-style lighter similar to the one seen on the live stream when cops arrested him.

Robinson, 19, is charged with aggravated arson and possession of a controlled substance.

He was convicted three times as a juvenile for illegal gun possession, a prosecutor said during his bond court appearance Saturday.

Assistant Public Defender Courtney Smallwood said Robinson is the father of two children. She also pointed out that no injuries were reported from the fire.

“In this court’s opinion, you were there, you were filming, you were watching what occurred out of enjoyment,” Judge Arthur Willis said after hearing the state’s allegations. “It’s through the grace of God that no one was hurt, killed, or injured in any way.”

Willis ordered Robinson held on $500,000 bail, meaning Robinson must post $50,000 to get out of jail. He is required to go onto electronic monitoring if he can raise the money, Willis said.

The Citizen app has had bad luck with arsonists.

In May, its executives offered a $30,000 bounty for a man it said was responsible for setting a wildfire in California. Unfortunately for them — and the man — the guy they accused was not responsible for the fires at all.

The company apologized.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com