By Maria Medina

MILPITAS (KPIX) — A friend of the man accused of setting at least a dozen fires in Milpitas said Friday he believes he did it because of the loss of his wife.

“He had shared with me that his wife had passed away, and that he had dreams of driving in the Milpitas hills and showing her where he grew up,” said Richard Santoro.

Santoro was one of the last people who saw Freddie Graham, 68, before his arrest Monday at San Jose Mineta International Airport. He was getting ready to board a plane back to Missouri where he lives when authorities caught up to him.

Graham had flown to San Jose last Thursday for the Samuel Ayer High School 50-year class reunion.

According to Cal Fire, Graham set four fires on Friday and nine before he arrived at the Sheraton in Milpitas for the reunion on Saturday. One of the fires at the Calaveras Reservoir burned 128 acres. No one was hurt and no structures were threatened.

“While he was there, the fires were going on that he had set,” Santoro said. “I mean, he literally could see the smoke from where he was at.”

Santoro said he spoke to Graham several times that night, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. In fact, Graham thanked Santoro for tracking him down and inviting him to the reunion.

But Santoro said it wasn’t until after Graham’s arrest that he recalled the conversation he had with him over the summer when he asked him to return for the Samuel Ayer High event.

“Something clicked in my head and all of a sudden I realized that Fred had mentioned about his wife dying,” he said. “I think the man is distraught, he got up in those hills and I think it all kind of hit him and he just wanted, again, I think he just wanted to lash out.”

Cal Fire said witnesses spotted Graham’s rental car at one of the fires and gave the agency a license plate.

A woman, who didn’t want to be identified, told WDAF-TV in Kansas City, that she had exchanged text messages with Graham around the time he is accused of setting the fires and that he seemed “normal.” She said she had met him on an online dating site, but that it was obvious he was still grieving over his wife.

“He was just a very lonely guy,” she said. “I would say, ‘Why, why’d you do it…why didn’t you reach out for help.”

But Graham is no stranger to the law. He’s accused of setting a tractor-trailer on fire in Missouri last August.

He now faces 13 counts of arson in the Milpitas fires, as well as two special counts of arson during a state of emergency that was declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this year. Graham is expected in court next Monday.

Santoro said he plans to visit his former classmate on Saturday at the Elmwood Men’s Jail.

He hopes he says “yes,” and talks to him about what may be troubling him.

“Obviously, this man is distraught and is angry,” said Santoro. “The first thing I’ll tell him is, ‘You know, Fred, what you did was wrong.”

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