First charges filed in fatal apartment fire are unrelated to actual blaze

Albuquerque police are searching for a woman they say tried to extort money from a fire victim by threatening to blame the resident for starting the fire that killed a 10-year-old boy last month.

“She made threats to kill family members,” said Officer Simon Drobik with the Albuquerque Police Department.

Police say on April 16, the same day as the fatal apartment fire at the Sierra Meadows Apartments near Eubank and Montgomery that killed 10-year-old Ja’Zay Simpson, a woman who did not live there, named Natasha Rodgers, started sending threatening messages to one of the residents.

“In this case, the person took it way too far, used this horrible tragedy to try and extort money from the victim,” said Drobik.

According to the arrest warrant, Rodgers started messaging the victim after she had posted on Facebook, asking for food donations to give to first responders as a thank you.

The first message was tame, “Rodgers: Are there any leftovers from all the food you guys got?” But in the warrant, the messages quickly escalate. These are the following two:

Rodgers: “Im hungry and it was my birthday and I was alone.”

Rodgers: “Thank b****. Don’t even share all your food. Fata**. How big that family you feeding? And insurance gonna cover it all right? Like that last time?”

That is the first time in the warrant messages that Rodgers, seemingly without any evidence, accuses the victim of starting the fire that killed Simpson.

The arrest warrant shows the victim only responded one time, near this point in the messages.

Victim: “What [the] food went to the fire dept and police department. My kids got nothing of the food what is your problem?”

Rodgers also allegedly demanded $300 in return for her silence, which, in the messages, she considered a pretty good deal.

Rodgers: “I mean 300 that’s pretty easy going [don’t] you think you took two kids lives.”

At the time of these messages, another child was still in serious condition but did recover.

When the victim did not respond to Rodgers demands, police say she threatened to have the woman and her family killed saying, “I know people” and then gave her 2.5 hours to pay up.

Rogers: “Ok well have a nice rest of your life. I’ll make a public posting in two and a half hours. You can call me to negotiate.”

“These threats are enough that she has a felony charge of extortion against her,” said Drobik.

The next day, one day after the fire, the victim met with police after she says Rodgers “pinpointed” what she was wearing at the time and named her daughters and where her one of them goes to school. “The victim, in this case, saved everything and was able to put a case together for the detectives to follow up on,” said Drobik.

According to the arrest warrant, Rodgers and the victim met briefly two years ago and were Facebook friends before this incident. However, there is no indication the two knew each other beyond that.

KRQE News 13 did reach Rodgers on the phone Wednesday who was surprised to hear there was a warrant out for her arrest. She admitted to the extortion but denied ever saying she would hurt the victim.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue is wrapping up their investigation into the fire and says the public can expect to know their findings within the next week. There is a warrant out for Rodgers’ arrest. If you have any information on her whereabouts, contact APD.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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