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Family of man accused of starting apartment fire in Murray say mental illness and lack of care were factors in the blaze

(Fire crews had to remove the roof of the damaged apartments because it kept collapsing, making it unsafe for investigators. Photo: Paul Nelson)

MURRAY – Family members of a man accused setting a Murray apartment complex on fire say there is more to his story.  They say he has been dealing with severe mental health problems, and they believe the fire could have been prevented if he had access to proper care.

Police booking affidavits say Forrest Wilkinson told residents of the Stillwater Apartments there was going to be a fire, laughed, then sprayed one unit with lighter fluid and set it ablaze.  Wilkinson was reportedly still at the complex when investigators arrived, and told them he needed to “tell the truth” and he “did not know what else to do.”

His mother, Michelle Wilkinson, says he has been hearing voices for many years, and she believes were triggered by heavy use of alcohol and drugs, although he was never officially diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Wilkinson says her son had been self-medicating since the age of 15 as he dealt with the trauma of being sexually abused when he was 11.

Wilkinson says the family has been trying to find proper treatment for his mental health problems, but it was either too expensive, or just not available.  She says she called several different facilities, but none of those were realistic options.

“I called and it was the same thing.  You have to have the right insurance or you have to have $10,000 in cash, and $10,000 were the cheap ones,” she says.

According to Wilkinson, her son’s voices would constantly tell him the police were following him and that the sexual abuse was his fault.  Before the fire, he reportedly told her he couldn’t take the mental illness anymore.

She says, “He was begging, ‘Please take the day off work.  Take me to a hospital.  I’m tired of it.’”

Eventually, the family was able to find a facility that accepted his insurance, but there weren’t any beds available at the time.  Wilkinson says the fire was set while they were waiting for a spot to open.

Despite his illness, Wilkinson says her son has moments of clarity and sobriety, and he’s always remorseful when he learns about what he did while in a psychotic state.

“If he could say he was sorry to everyone, I know that he would,” she says, tearfully.  “He would do anything to pay everybody back for all the damage he has done.  I haven’t been able to talk to him, but I know my son, and I know he’ll work until he dies to pay everybody back.”

No one was seriously hurt from the fire, but officials estimate roughly $500,000 worth of damage was done.