ALFRED — Police have charged a teenager with murder in a fire that killed two people in September, but are offering few details on what led them to the man one acquaintance described as a loner and what ties he might have had to the victims.

Dylan Lee Collins, 18, of 22 Center St., Biddeford, made his initial appearance in York County Superior Court on Friday on two counts of murder by depraved indifference and one count of felony arson.

Justice Carl Bradford ordered Collins temporarily held without bail. Attorneys planned to argue whether Collins should be allowed bail later, but a date for that hearing was not set. Collins stood silently beside his attorney, Will Ashe, during the hearing. Dressed in a short-sleeved, button-down shirt, jeans and sneakers, he frowned throughout the proceeding and looked blankly at photographers taking his picture.

The Sept. 18 fire at 35 Main St. killed James Ford, 21, and Michael Moore, 23, and displaced two dozen people who lived there. Moore died the day after the fire, Ford died a month later from infections brought on by the toxic chemicals in the smoke he had breathed.

Collins was taken into custody Wednesday at his place of employment, Monkey Trunks on Cascade Road in Saco, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. According to the manager of the amusement center, which features ropes courses and zip lines, Collins was newly hired and had worked only a few hours when police took him away.

Collins has no prior criminal record as an adult in Maine.

Ford’s sister, Justine DiPietro, spoke outside the courthouse after Collins’ appearance, saying she had never seen him before, and that her brother did not know him.

“I’m disappointed that an 18-year-old would become an arsonist,” DiPietro said. “I’m very upset that he would endanger people, including children. And he killed my brother and his best friend. My life will never be the same.”

Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, who is prosecuting the case, said an indictment will be sought against Collins.

Alsop also filed a motion seeking a forensic evaluation of Collins while he remains in custody, to evaluate his mental condition for criminal responsibility, abnormal conditions of mind and any other issues involving his mental or emotional state.

“At this point, we don’t think competency is an issue,” Alsop said.

Collins was hospitalized for observation Wednesday night and Thursday at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, McCausland said. He was interviewed there by Maine State Police, with assistance from the State Fire Marshal’s Office. He was arrested Friday morning and taken to the York County Jail in Alfred.

Alsop would not provide further details about the investigation.

The judge ordered that court records in the case be temporarily impounded, including a police affidavit filed with the court to obtain a warrant for Collins’ arrest.

The fatal fire started at 3:45 a.m. on Sept. 18. The two victims slept in a third-floor room that did not have a fire escape or a second means of egress. The other residents who escaped reported hearing no smoke alarms, though the property manager said he equipped every apartment with hard-wired alarms. The fire caused extensive damage to the three-story wood-frame section at the rear of the mostly brick building across from the Pepperell Mill complex.

In response to a Freedom of Access request by the Portland Press Herald, Biddeford city officials released inspection records for the property, which they had impounded at the request of the State Fire Marshal’s Office during the arson investigation.

The documents show a certificate of occupancy for the building issued in 1998.

The apartment building and its owner, Clark Nielson, were found in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting street-level apartments in that zone in 2002, 2008 and 2012.

Investigators with the Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire in the 17-unit building was intentionally set in a stairwell connecting the first and second floors. The state police took charge of the investigation because the fire resulted in fatalities.

A woman who lives in another unit at 22 Center St. said Collins had moved into a vacant room on Nov. 1. and that police executed a search warrant there Wednesday. A judge in Biddeford District Court ordered the search warrant to remain under seal.

Elizabeth McLean, who manages the apartment building for a relative, said she agreed to rent to Collins after his mother arrived first to look at the apartment and because he had two part-time jobs.

“He was very quiet. He came with his mother,” McLean said. “This was the first time he was on his own.”

Kris Gagnon, the general manager of Monkey Trunks, said Collins had been hired as a landscaper, clearing trails on the property. All of the amusement center’s locations have been closed for the season.

A Facebook page apparently belonging to Collins contains links to music videos, cellphone photos of himself and screen grabs of images ranging from a cemetery to the Joker character from “The Dark Knight” film. He also wrote angry, depressed postings.

“I don’t care if I die, it’s not a world worth living in anyway,” he wrote in a post on Oct. 26.

“I don’t deserve the hatred,” he wrote on Oct. 31.

“From now on the only people I need in life are friends. Period the end,” he wrote on Aug. 22.

Adam Kezer became friends with Collins when they were sophomores at Biddeford High School.

Collins had been part of a tough crowd, listening to rap music, doing drugs and getting in fights, Kezer said.

“He was actually a pretty nice kid, sociable, started talking just like normal kids do,” but their relationship soured after a couple years, Kezer said.

“Stuff happened and then we couldn’t be friends any more,” he said. Collins wasn’t fun to be around, he said. He was insensitive about certain things. “He started making jokes about serious issues like 9/11. He meant it as a joke, but he didn’t understand the severity of the joke.”

Kezer said Collins left Biddeford High to attend the private Saco Island School, an alternative school, in Biddeford.

“He was just stuck in this sort of state he couldn’t really get out of,” Kezer said. “I felt bad because he was crying out for friends, but I didn’t want to involve myself, my life, into his because I knew he was not very stable.”

Diane Sirois, president of Saco Island School, said the school closed in June for financial reasons. She would not confirm whether Collins had attended, citing student confidentiality.

Kezer recalled Collins stopping by to visit him at the beginning of the summer, out of the blue.

“It was like an awkward situation. I was busy doing something else. We didn’t have much to talk about,” he said. “I had to tell him I was busy.”

Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this story.


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