Two Arrested For Murder & Arson In Fatal Manhattan Apt. Fire

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Two people have been arrested for killing a Kansas State University researcher by intentionally setting a fire at an off campus apartment complex.

Patrick Scahill, 20, of Manhattan, and Virginia Griese, 19, of Manhattan, have been arrested for Felony Murder and Aggravated Arson in connection with a fire that led to the death of 34-year-old Dr. Vasanta Pallem.

The fire broke out just before midnight Thursday at the Lee Crest Apartments at 820 Sunset Avenue. Most of the occupants in the building, which is adjacent to K-State’s campus, are university students.

When firefighters arrived, they encountered heavy smoke and a small amount of fire in the lower level of the building.

Crews had extinguished the fire and were doing a search of the building when they found Pallem in medical distress.

She was rushed to Mercy Regional Health Center where she died of smoke inhalation.

Pallem, a postdoctoral researcher who worked in the university's chemical engineering department, lived on the top floor of the apartment complex.

No one else was injured in the fire. It is not clear if the fire started in Pallem's apartment.

Members of the the Riley County Police Department, the Manhattan Fire Department, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, ATF, Kansas Bureau of Investigations and the Pottawatomie County Sheriff's Office are investigating what caused the fire.

Local, state and federal authorities have been on the scene, conducting their probe into the deadly blaze.

News of the arrests came late Friday. As a result of the ongoing investigation, officials revealed that it was determined that the fire was intentionally set.

K-State officials told WIBW that the university has worked with the Red Cross and the property manager of the apartment building to help assist other students displaced by the fire. The students are in hotels or with friends for a few more nights. The university and Red Cross are also working with Pallem's family, officials said. Support is being offered to those impacted by her death.

Members of the KBI's Crime Scene Response Team were on site Friday using a $220,000 Leica camera to scan the scene and inside the building. The camera takes 50,000 measurements every second and the KBI uses it to recreate incredibly realistic panoramic views of crime scenes. Officials say the camera has been extremely helpful in courtrooms across the state because it allows juries and lawyers on both sides to see a 3-D view of the crime scene. The Crime Scene Response Team helps investigate major crimes across Kansas.

Don Lee, with Lee Construction (owners of the complex), says he does not yet know how much damage the fire caused but he says the management is eager to get things back up and running so that the other tenants lives won't be uprooted for long. There are twelve units in the building. It was Lee's understanding that Pallem lived alone.

Lee called the fire and Pallem's death a "total tragedy" and said his "heart goes out to her family."

"You can always rebuild a building but you can't replace a human life," he said.

Scahill and Griese are being held in the Riley County Jail on $1,000,000 bond. Further details regarding the investigation are not available. A motive is not known. It is also unclear whether the suspects knew Pallem. Police indicate that Scahill lives in an apartment at 1838 Anderson Avenue and Griese lived on North 5th Street so it does not appear that they were residents at the apartment complex where the fire was set.

Mug shots of the suspects are not available. The Riley County Police Department does not release booking photos from their jail.

According to Kansas State University's website, Scahill and Griese are both students. Scahill is listed as a freshmen in Arts and Sciences and Griese is listed as a sophomore studying Biology.

On Thursday, RCPD revealed that Patrick Scahill had been taken into custody in connection with a Criminal Damage to Property investigation. His apartment was searched and he was arrested on a number of drug charges, including Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute, Possession of Mushrooms with Intent to Distribute, Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Distribute, Felony Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Criminal Possession of a Firearm.

Two of Scahill's roommates, Dennis Denzien, 20, and Frank Joseph Hanson III, 22, were arrested for Aggravated Robbery in connection with a holdup at the Dara's Fast Lane on Claflin Road Wednesday, February 6, 2013, around 1:20 AM. Officials said Scahill was not connected to the armed robbery.

KBI investigator using Leica camera to scan fire scene
Dr. Vasanta Pallem, the victim