Friday Oct 22 2010
The man behind the Galleria inferno
By: Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
Alexander Piggee lost his job and home
The man who set the Galleria aflame Thursday was a lonely transient with depression and anger issues, interviews and reports show. Alexander Piggee’s publicity stunt was more a cry for help than an act of insanity, sources say. Now that officials have questioned the 23-year-old, Roseville Police Detective Jerry Wernli said he seemed far from crazy. “He’s actually a very sharp individual,” Wernli said, describing Piggee as “bright” and “lucid.” But months of personal troubles led up to the spectacle that spurred a mass evacuation of the Galleria and resulted in upward of $6.5 million in damages. Piggee, who now says his name is pronounced “piggy,” is scheduled to enter a plea Thursday on five felony charges: burglary, two counts of criminal threats, aggravated arson and arson to a structure. Problems began when Piggee lost his job at the In-N-Out Burger inside West Sacramento’s Ikea shopping area in July. Friends described Piggee as “sweet” and “one of the nicest guys” before his dismissal. Adam Holliday, who worked at the In-N-Out on Truxel Road in Sacramento, said they and their colleagues hung out outside of work, going to parties or playing laser tag. At those events, Piggee was “outgoing” and a “good guy to be around,” Holliday said. But at Piggee’s last In-N-Out function, a July softball tournament, he pulled a 180. Rumors had been swirling for a while, and the game that day got a little too competitive. Holliday said Piggee cursed at a manager, leading to his immediate termination. Piggee’s Facebook and KCRA said he planned to sue the company. After that, Holliday said, his friend “went psychotic,” lashing out at people and trying to get others fired. A friend from Piggee’s days at James Rutter Middle School, in Sacramento, had just reconnected with him on Facebook a month before the firing. Like Holliday, Christina Puckering said Piggee completely changed, from a friend who offered to drive her to class, to an angry person she didn’t want to associate with. “His mental state after he got fired kind of deteriorated, along with his personality,” Puckering said. After a few weeks he calmed down, but by then his mother, Mary Carter, had kicked him out of their South Sacramento home so he would grow up. Piggee, a Stockton native who graduated from Highlands High School in 2005, called Puckering for help finding shelter, but she didn’t know what to tell him. Wernli said it appeared Piggee was floating from friend to friend, “wherever he could catch a couch,” although he also spent time at the Gathering Inn, a homeless shelter program in Roseville. Dallas Raynor lives on Main Street, not far from the shelter. He was one of the last people to see Piggee before his eruption grabbed national headlines. Piggee waltzed onto Raynor’s porch on Oct. 16. The men had never met before, but because they are both black, Piggee saw a friendly face when Raynor nodded to him. “When you see another black person you say, ‘What’s up,’” Raynor said in a phone interview. He tried to be nice, even letting the stranger inside for a haircut; it was a Saturday, and lots of friends came through because Raynor’s roommate cuts hair. They all couldn’t help being surprised by Piggee’s red hair. But the newcomer showed off bottles of prescribed Oxycontin and Vicodin, which set off alarms in Raynor’s mind – he said friends have died or gotten hurt from Oxycontin, and he hates the painkiller. Piggee reportedly checked himself into Mercy San Juan Hospital, in Carmichael, at least once. So Raynor was suspicious, checking Piggee’s ID and questioning him about staying at Gathering Inn. He and his roommates made sure to lock up when they went out of town, and suspected Piggee of theft because he talked about getting an Xbox 360 at Wal-Mart. Piggee is a suspect in the fire that hit Wal-Mart on Antelope Road early Thursday, hours before he reached the mall. The man visited Raynor’s place on Main Street a few times last week, asking how to get to Wal-Mart and the Galleria. He followed them to a bar Tuesday night, posting his final Facebook update early Wednesday from Raynor’s computer. Now Raynor, who has been questioned by officials, wonders what might have happened if he’d opened up to Piggee, an unhappy man who felt rejected by family and friends. “I just wanna be loved and actually have someone to trust,” Piggee wrote in an Aug. 21 Facebook posting that mentions getting kicked out, beaten up and hospitalized. Raynor said he saw bruises on Piggee from being jumped. On the one hand, he believes Piggee could have robbed him. On the other, Raynor wonders, if the drifter had been hanging out with him, would he have abandoned the scheme at the Galleria? In the end, Raynor didn’t want more friends but tried to be polite. “I’m not a person who’s going to say, ‘Get the f--- off my porch,’” he said. Similarly, Piggee’s friend from In-N-Out, Holliday, felt pangs of regret about how he might have helped. “We saw the problems and no one did anything,” he said. “People sat back and watched.” When Piggee made the final choice to hold up the mall, his childhood friend, Puckering, saw it as his attempt to make a scene and prove himself. That is consistent with an interview Piggee gave CBS 13, in which he confessed to wanting attention. At the Galleria, Piggee said he had a weapon and acted on the bidding of abductors who had his sister. Officials said neither has proved true. Puckering knew that Piggee had been stressed and fed up with people giving him trouble. But he had changed a lot from the quiet, athletic middle-schooler she first met, the one who flirted with her and her friends ad nauseum. “His life just took a downward spiral,” she said. Lien Hoang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.