Manhattan Arson, Murder Suspects Could Face Federal Prosecution

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Two Kansas State University students charged with setting a deadly fire at a Manhattan apartment complex appeared before a judge for the first time Monday.

Patrick Scahill, 20, of Manhattan, and Virginia Griese, 19, of Manhattan, were arrested Friday for Felony Murder and Aggravated Arson in connection with a fire that led to the death of 34-year-old Dr. Vasanta Pallem at an off-campus apartment complex.

The fire broke out just before midnight last 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.

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 from smoke inhalation.

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

No one else was injured in the fire.

Sources say the suspects chose the apartment building at random and set fire to the hallway on the bottom floor of the complex, killing Pallem in the process due to heavy smoke buildup.

Patrick Scahill and Virginia Griese made their first court appearance Monday at the Riley County Courthouse via closed circuit TV from the Riley County Jail. They were officially read their charges and their next court appearance was set for February 26th at 1 PM.

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 the fatal fire.

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.

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.

Officials said it is possible that the case could be prosecuted at the federal level because of the involvement of the ATF. That will be up to the U.S. Attorney's Office in coordination with the Riley County Attorney's Office.