HUMPHREYS COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Humphreys County firefighter is behind bars facing arson charges, leaving the small community heartbroken.
Leslie Winchester who worked for the Humphreys County Fire Department for five years is behind bars, facing more than a dozen charges.
“There’s just a lot of emotions going around you know. There’s people that are angry, there’s people that are hurt, there’s heartbreak,” Chief John Potter told News 2.
A roster of about 20 volunteers makes up District 2.
“They come in here after working a full-time job and then have to run these fires,” the chief explained.
Over the last few weeks, Chief Potter says they’ve been run ragged, fighting nine structure fires, in immense heat, with two injured on the job. “Definitely these guys have been run down, they’ve been tired, and it’s been a lot of work for them.”
A department that shares a bond like family feels broken.
“Nobody wanted to believe it, nobody wanted to think that was actually something from within,” he explained.
A joint investigation led to one of District 2’s own, 19-year-old Leslie Winchester, as the man behind several of the fires. A furniture store, a church, and a Masonic Lodge are among them, according to the chief.
“Leslie started when he was approximately 15 years old. His father was on the department so he would come in with him and had been around for a while, probably about five years,” Potter said.
Winchester now faces more than a dozen charges, including a half dozen arson charges.
The chief says he is just as surprised and disheartened as his colleagues. “There’s just a level of betrayal from where this has come from within our own family, and we hate to see that.”
It’s a family Potter just walked into as chief less than two weeks ago. “Been a busy couple of weeks for somebody first come in the door,” he said.
The physical and emotional toll on the small volunteer fire department has been overwhelming.
“It has been just one tragedy after the next. We are taking it day to day and trying to keep the pieces together.”
The chief recognized the community’s strength as they look ahead.
“The biggest thing is the betrayal and how we’ve got to be stronger and come back together as a family and keep doing the job get back on the truck and keep going,” he said.
Winchester is being held in Humphreys County Jail on a more than $1 million bond.