Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Jessica Campbell (Santa Fe County Adult Detention Center)

A suspect said it started as a plan “to score.”

It blew up into the Nov. 14 fire at the Walmart Supercenter in Edgewood that sent employees and shoppers running and torched aisles of merchandise.

It took firefighters several hours to extinguish the blaze allegedly set as a distraction to shoplift hundreds of dollars in goods – goods to be exchanged for drug money.

Now, 32-year-old Jessica Campbell of Tijeras is federally charged with arson in U.S. District Court after the fire caught the attention of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The alleged shoplifting-turned-arson is detailed in incident reports released by Edgewood Police to the Journal through an Inspection of Public Records Act request.

Police let Campbell and an accomplice go when the fire broke out, thinking she had only shoplifted, but she was arrested April 9 on a federal warrant after being found outside the same Walmart, and is currently in custody.

Campbell’s attorney couldn’t be reached for comment.

It’s unclear if Campbell was the only one to set fires in the building.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office declined to comment and referred questions to ATF, who could not be reached Friday.

So far, only one of Campbell’s alleged accomplices has been charged in the incident: Leila Williams, 20, whose recent places of residence have been listed as Belen and Edgewood. She faces one count of shoplifting over $500. A warrant has been issued for Williams’ arrest after she failed to show up for court.

Employees of the Walmart on N.M. 344, just north of Interstate 40, declined to comment or answer questions from the Journal.

The incident report states Williams told authorities it began with a plan “to score.”

Edgewood Police responded around 8 p.m. when they were called to the store. Employees pointed out two men in the store, Campbell’s alleged accomplices, who had shoplifted the night before and asked police to cite them for trespassing.

“As I was filling out trespass forms, I observed several Walmart associates begin running to the back of the building with fire extinguishers,” an officer wrote in the incident report. “I heard one of them yell there was a fire in the bathroom.”

That’s when a customer told another officer that a woman “was running with a shopping cart full (of) items that were not paid for.” Police found Williams and another woman – later identified as Campbell – loading the stolen goods into a car outside.

“As I was speaking to (Campbell), I observed people running out of Walmart and noticed smoke starting to come out of the grocery side,” an officer wrote.

Police issued Williams a criminal summons for shoplifting and let the women go “due to the priority of the structure fire,” according to the report.

A Walmart employee told police she heard “what sounded like matches or a lighter being struck” in the bathroom stall next to her shortly before a fire sparked there.

Another woman told police she saw two boys pointing and laughing at the fire and when she asked if “they thought it was funny,” they told her “it was funny because they did it,” according to the report.

“I asked her if she believed them, and she said she wasn’t sure and thought maybe they were teasing,” an officer wrote.

Police said security video showed two women – identified as Williams and Campbell – push a shopping cart through the toilet paper aisle as one ducked under the shelves and set two fires.

“It was now evident that the shoplifters that we had stopped (were) the arsonists,” an officer wrote.

The fire department said the blaze caused “significant damage” to the paper goods aisle along with several adjacent aisles. A smaller fire started in the bathroom trash can had been quickly extinguished before damage could be done.

Police said Williams’ mother told them she hadn’t spoken with her daughter – who she said was homeless, had been “on drugs for several years” and lost custody of her child.

Police spoke with Williams when she was arrested Nov. 29 and she told them the whole thing was Campbell’s idea, according to the report. She said the four were going to shoplift for drug money and Campbell brought a torch to cause “a distraction.”

Police said Williams told them she tried to get Campbell to stop lighting the fires “but she wouldn’t listen.” She said afterward the group got angry at Campbell, who replied she was “doing it for us so we can get high.”

Williams told police she didn’t know Campbell’s whereabouts. She said the two women met “on the streets” and said Campbell often lives in her car with her two children.