A convicted arsonist has been charged with murder. His former neighbors recall their terror

Ottawa residents who’ve lived in the same buildings as Saeed Mohamed are reacting with alarm that he’s now charged with murder in a recent highrise fire.

Mohamed, 42, is accused of setting fire to a large apartment building on Donald Street on May 2.

A three-year-old girl, Karima Moustapha, died from her injuries about one week after that fire in the city’s Cyrville neighborhood. Police have charged Mohamed with arson, first-degree murder and other offenses, all of which have not yet been proven in court.

Eight years earlier and about five kilometers away in Sandy Hill, Mohamed, then 34, deliberately started two fires at his Sandy Hill apartment building.

Natalija Spirina still lives there and said the 2016 fires — for which Mohamed was convicted two years later — spooked her enough to make her consider moving.

It was only after Mohamed was arrested for the Sandy Hill fires, Spirina said, that she felt she could say.

“We felt safe, finally,” said her daughter Mira, who also lives in the neighborhood.

Mira Spirina said she remembers getting a “frantic” call from her mother after she’d fled outside with her pet during one fire.

“They were terrified,” she recalled.

For Natalija Spirina, learning about Moustapha’s recent death is “horrible” and has her wondering what could have happened had she not been “lucky” enough to get out safely in 2016.

Neither she nor her daughter knew Mohamed was out of jail. If he’s convicted in the Donald Street fire, Spirina said, he needs to receive proper help while he’s incarcerated.

“I feel sorry for him, for everybody,” she said.

Court sketch of Saeed Mohamed

Saeed Mohamed, seen here in a recent court sketch, has been charged with arson and first-degree murder in a May 2 Ottawa highrise fire that has left a three-year-old girl dead. (Lauren Foster-Macleod)

Sought work as delivery person

Several residents said there were multiple fires in the Sandy Hill building leading up to Mohamed’s 2016 arrest, including one in the elevator.

Another resident, who CBC agreed not to name because she fears retribution, said her apartment didn’t suffer any damage but she was left rattled.

According to court documents related to those fires, Mohamed was sentenced in October 2018 to just under two years in jail, plus three years of probation that came with a lengthy list of conditions.

It’s not clear how much time I spent behind bars.

In January 2021, he asked to have his probation order amended so that he could be within 100 meters of multiresidential buildings, without the permission of a probation officer, if it was related to his employment.

It’s also not clear if the request was granted.

Mohamed’s application to change his probation order noted he had a job lined up as a delivery person for Intelcom Express.

“Need job to financially support myself,” Mohamed’s application read.

A letter from Mohamed’s sister indicated he was doing well, taking his medications and staying home every day but he was also unemployed and seeking work.

Mohamed was portraying himself “to be someone who’s responsible,” she wrote.

Rahat Shawon, Ottawa, May 17, 2024

Homeowner Rahat Shawon says a basement tenant sublet a room (without Shawon’s consent) to Mohamed for a brief time in 2023. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

In a statement to CBC, Intelcom said Mohamed ended up being employed by one of its independent delivery contractors from February 2020 to January 2021.

“We are committed to upholding everyone who delivers packages on behalf of Intelcom or anyone who works for us to the highest standards of integrity and service,” the statement said.

Mohamed’s lawyer declined to comment about the letter. He did not respond by deadline to questions about Mohamed’s 2018 conviction and any subsequent job of him as a delivery person.

‘I have goosebumps’

Like Spirina, Rahat Shawon says he considers himself lucky after crossing paths with Mohamed.

Shawon owns a home in Vanier where his basement tenant sublets a room — without Shawon’s approval — to Mohamed for a brief period in 2023.

According to Shawon, his tenant and Mohamed feuded, a door was broken and Mohamed left.

“I have goosebumps because I have two kids,” Shawon said when asked about the new charges against Mohamed.

Emergency crews were back at this highrise on Donald Street for the second time this week, following a bedroom fire late Friday night. The previous fire left eight people with injuries, three of whom were taken to hospital in critical condition.

Police are parked outside the Donald Street high rise in the days after the May 2 fire. (Rebecca Kwan/Radio-Canada)

Court documents list Mohamed’s current address as the Donald Street building.

In an emailed statement to CBC, Conundrum Capital Corporation — speaking on behalf of building owner Enterprise Residential REIT — said it was devastated by Moustapha’s death and hoped the adult and other child who were also hospitalized made a recovery.

Counseling remains available to residents, the company said.

One of those residents, Deanna Lamoureux, said the building has experienced multiple fires in recent months. She said she was not entirely surprised by the May 2 fire but was still shaken.

“For this to actually happen and to cause harm like that is absolutely terrifying as a mom,” Lamoureux said the next day, adding that her family was considering moving.

Asked about recent fires at the building, Conundrum Capital Corporation said security guards patrol the property and all entrances are monitored by more than 50 cameras.

The Ottawa Police Service is involved too and residents are encouraged to report any problems, it is included.

When asked about Mohamed, the company said it follows all legislative and regulatory standards when it evaluates a rental application.

It said it conducts several standard checks — including employment, residency and credit checks — while also ensuring its policies adhere to human rights legislation that prohibits discrimination.

“Resident safety is always our top priority and we use the measures that are legally available to us to support this,” the company stated.