RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond police have charged a suspect with the burning of a pit bull named Tommie, alive.
Jyahshua A. Hill, 20, was arrested May 20 by the U.S. Marshals Regional Fugitive Task Force. Hill is charged with one count of felony animal cruelty.
Hill was indicted by a grand jury on May 8 and arraigned May 21.
The dog suffered burns to more than 40 percent of his body after being tied to a fence post and covered in a flammable liquid. He was then lit on fire. Tommie was treated for his injuries, but later died five days later.
Hill’s wife appeared at his arraignment and claimed his name was falsely given to police so they could collect the $25,000 reward money for capturing Tommie’s killer.
She said he had never seen the dog before.
"I can’t fathom it,” Evan Mott said.
He’s a dog owner himself.
"A lot of people equate animals to kind of members of family…They look to us for survival. We feed them and we bring them into our families,” he added.
The case sparked widespread outrage and support for Tommie and Richmond Animal Care and Control. Millions of people followed Tommie’s story, and donated well over $100,000 since his traumatic event.
"We all wanted to see him pull through to be happy and I think that’s the hardest part that he never got there…If there’s somebody out there, like that who does this to an animal, they’re going to do this to another animal or a human,” Carrie Alspaugh said.
Investigators are crediting information from the community with helping officers solve the case.
“There are a lot of people to thank, but I’d like to single out all the citizens who contributed tips that pointed us in the right direction” said Interim Police Chief William C. Smith. “That, plus the excellent job done by arson investigators who did the bulk of the work, major crimes detectives, forensics technicians and animal control officers who all built a strong case to present to the grand jury.”
An incredible number of tips came in to both RACC and Richmond police, ultimately leading investigators to the suspect.
“We had so many people reach out," said Christie Chipps Peters, director of RACC. "It’s an unbelievable case... (Richmond police) had more people from the community rally around this case, than they have seen in a very long time.”
Peters says firefighters from Engine 5, which is nearby Abner Clay Park, quickly rushed over to put out the flames.
“They literally opened their bay doors and saw him on fire and ran across the street with their fire extinguishers," she said.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has assigned two attorneys to the case; one has expertise in arson and the other in animal cruelty prosecutions.
After Tommie’s case became public, Virginia passed a law known colloquially as “Tommie’s Law” to stiffen penalties for animal abuse. The law goes into effect July 1.
NBC12 can also confirm that surveillance cameras are now working in Abner Clay Park, which was not the case when Tommie was set on fire.
This Saturday, a special patio with a mural of Tommie will be unveiled at River City Roll at 1 p.m. It’s been named “Tommie’s Patio.”
Anyone with information in connection to the case is asked to call RFD Fire Investigator Lt. B. Dalrymple at 804 646-5421 or Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000.
A booking photo is not yet available.
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