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Woman gets 9 months, mental health treatment for arson in Happy Valley

A young woman who set fire to a Bellingham apartment has been sentenced to nine months in jail.

Elysée Antoinette Ledford, 23, of Ferndale, had been suffering from mental illness on the morning of June 21, 2014, when she ripped pages out of a book and squirted lighter fluid on a bed to start a fire in the 1100 block of 23rd Street.

Neighbors heard a smoke detector go off in the eight-unit complex and called 911. Firefighters put out the flames and, soon afterward, the 53-year-old tenant rode home on his bike. Shocked, he explained he’d left around 9:30 a.m. while Ledford stayed behind at the apartment.

Ledford spoke with police around noon. She freely admitted to starting the fire, and said she’d done it because she was mad at the tenant, a registered sex offender. She claimed he offered her drugs for sex — a statement police could not corroborate. She figured she was “at the bad end of the deal,” so she went into the man’s bedroom and lit his bed on fire, according to charging papers.

Ledford was charged with arson. Since then she has been shuttled between jail and Western State Hospital, where doctors gave tentative diagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

According to court records, she told doctors she’d been getting good grades in high school and college, working on the side as a pizza delivery driver. Around the age of 18, she started to have paranoid and delusional thoughts that she was being watched through her computer. She also started hallucinating voices in her head.

“She reports still hearing noises,” a psych exam from April noted, “but it is much better.”

Ledford pleaded guilty last week to arson in the second degree, a Class B felony. She’s already served her nine-month sentence, so she was released from jail Thursday afternoon. She’s on probation for the next year to ensure she gets mental health treatment.

Restitution for the fire remains be determined.