Man charged with arson, aggravated stalking after fire

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A woman is now sifting through the burnt remains of her shed and part of her home – the victim is in hiding— and the suspect is behind bars.

The fire happened after months of death threats, damage to other family members’ properties, and a failed restraining order.

KOB 4 spoke to the homeowner affected by the fire – a close friend of the victim– whose only fear now is that this suspect won’t stay in jail for long.

“My grandpa, he was a musician so all his tapes were in here. All his devices, all my dad’s stuff was in here,” said Dawn Mills Mata. 

Mata’s shed went up in flames early Sunday morning.

“The neighbor came and woke us up. She said, ‘Dawn your shed is on fire,’” said Dawn Mills Mata.  

The fire quickly spread to the edge of her home – feet from her sleeping 7-year-old daughter.

“I had to drag them out of bed. We were dead asleep. Everybody was dead asleep. They were screaming, they were crying. I dragged him by his foot,” said Mills Mata. 

The worst part is she feared something like this was coming, and knows who was behind it

“She said, ‘Who did this mommy? Was it uncle Eric?’ And I had to tell her, ‘Yes, it was Uncle Eric.’ Nobody else would have did that,” Mills Mata said. 

Investigators charged Eric Christian with arson and aggravated stalking. He’s the husband of Mills Mata’s longtime friend, who she considers a sister.

“I knew he was you know, a little controlling, but I didn’t realize the extent of the damage he was causing her mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” Mills Mata said. 

She had been staying at the house since February after she opened up about years of domestic abuse.

“It breaks my heart. Because so many women go through that, and they go through it alone. And the fact that she’s just such a wonderful person. She doesn’t deserve that,” said Mills Mata.

Mills Mata caught what she says is Christian’s car on her Ring camera circling the neighborhood minutes before the fire.

“That could have been my children, that could have been the rest of the house, that could have been our lives,” Mills Mata said. 

Christian’s wife has a restraining order against him, but documents show he has ignored it several times in the past few months.

Mills Mata says her house wasn’t his first target.

“He has vandalized her dad’s home. He vandalized her cars. He vandalized her work at Haltom Orthodontics. He is on a pattern, and it’s escalating,” said Mills Mata. “What’s going to be next? Who’s next? Her mom’s house? Who’s next her friends businesses? You know, he has a pattern, and he’s on a mission.”

KOB 4 Public Safety Expert and retired APD Commander Paul Szych worked domestic violence cases for eight years. He says arson – paired with a lack of acknowledgement of a restraining order– is a scary combination.

“You’re dealing with an individual that’s not only able and willing to, to more than likely cause great bodily harm to anyone that would be between them, and this person that they’re fixated on, but they’re very likely to,” said Szych. 

Szych says if he’s willing to commit this crime, investigators and those in the court system need to realize he’d be willing to take it a step further.

“To me, this is the tip, the very tip of where you would be setting somebody’s house on fire prior to killing them. And it really needs to be viewed that way,” Szych said. 

“If he gets out somebody’s gonna die. He will kill her, he’s on a mission, and he is gonna hurt somebody,” said Mills Mata.

Eric Christian is scheduled to have his first court appearance Tuesday. 

At last check, the district attorney’s office has not filed to keep him in jail until trial. So, he could be back out on the streets. 

A GoFundMe Page was set up by family members to help.