01/03/2012 at 05:00 PM EST
A string of arson set fires put Los Angeles residents on edge over the holidays and caused millions in damage – and it all may have been because a man felt his mother was being mistreated.
German national Harry Burkhart, 24, was arrested early Monday morning driving a minivan in West Hollywood. Inside were fire starter sticks. Once he was in custody, police say, the fires ceased.
Sheriff Lee Baca called the suspect the "most dangerous arsonist in Los Angeles County that I can recall," according to the Associated Press
Why would anyone set out to terrorize the city by torching cars and setting some 50 blazes that damaged structures, including the late Jim Morrison's former Laurel Canyon home?
While authorities don't yet have a definite motive, they say it appears Burkhart was outraged about his mother's pending deportation.
Dorothee Burkhart was arrested Dec. 28 on a provisional warrant from Germany, the AP reports. The arson spree began just after she was taken into federal custody.
During a court hearing Tuesday, Dorothee cried out for her son – and claimed he suffers from mental illness, the
Los Angeles Times
"My first question is, where is my son?" she shouted, later telling the federal judge in broken English that her son "is mental ill." It was also revealed the arrest warrant from Germany relates to 19 fraud charges in her home country.
During a recent immigration hearing about her case, her son – who is seen in TV footage grinning, clad in black with his hair in a ponytail – ranted against the U.S., according to the Los Angeles Times
An officer working on Dorothee's case saw footage of the suspected arsonist, recognized Burkhart, and contacted authorities, the AP reports. Burkhart, according to reports, has lived in Southern California for the past few years and is traveling on papers from Chechnya.
Police have stressed, however, that the investigation is not complete. "We are confident in our investigation, but we have a long way to go," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Becks said.