Accused Virginia Beach arsonist may have been motivated by custody battle, prosecutor says

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Monica Lamping, 30, was charged with arson in connection to the Jan. 22 fire of her Sullivan Boulevard home. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)
Monica Lamping, 30, was charged with arson in connection to the Jan. 22 fire of her Sullivan Boulevard home. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Monica Claire Lamping, 30, was home when her Virginia Beach house caught fire in January, killing two animals and sparking a search for her and her children, according to a prosecutor.

“She told investigators that she was there when the fire started,” prosecutor Eleanor Gaines said Wednesday during Lamping’s bond hearing.

“She was present when the fire started, but didn’t call anyone for help,” Gaines continued. “She felt no duty to save the community from harm.”

Gaines said the Jan. 22 fire started with an oil lamp, not a space heater as originally thought by the Virginia Beach Fire Department.

Lamping’s ex-roommate, 23-year-old Courtney Bullock, said she remembered the mother having an oil lamp in her room, but hadn’t considered it as a possible source of the fire.

The fire burned so hot that parts of Lamping’s bedroom were disintegrated, Gaines said.

This image was used on social media when police were looking for Monica Lamping and her children. (Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Police Department)
This image was used on social media when police were looking for Monica Lamping and her children. (Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Police Department)

Lamping’s defense attorney, Otis Forbes, added that as of now there is no evidence that an accelerant was used to make the fire spread quicker.

Gaines painted a picture for a Virginia Beach General District Court judge of Lamping leaving the home with her children as the fire blazed in her bedroom, knowing that four animals remained inside the house, including her own cat, Kenji.

The other three animals belonged to Bullock. Two of them, a dog named Nevada and a cat named Boss, died of smoke inhalation because they were trapped in Bullock’s bedroom, which was adjacent to Lamping’s.

The fire was reported around 3:30 a.m. — about four hours before Lamping and her children, Kai, 7, and now 10-month-old Oria, were reported missing.

A three-day search by police found the trio safe at an off-the-grid commune in Asheville, N.C.

Lamping was charged with arson of an occupied dwelling on Monday, a felony offense that carries a sentence of between five years and life in prison if she is found guilty.

A Monday news release from the Virginia Beach Fire Department said that other charges are pending against Lamping. The agency declined to list those charges.

Gaines said the prosecution believes that a custody battle between the mother and her ex-husband, Kevin Lamping, may have been motivation to start the fire and flee.

Kevin Lamping is a Naval officer and Kai’s father. The parents’ custody agreement for their son before Lamping’s disappearance is unclear, but Bullock said Lamping was happy when her ex was underway on a ship because she had more time with her son.

Upon Monica Lamping’s Jan. 25 return to Virginia, Kevin Lamping was granted full-time custody of Kai.  Lamping is still able to see her son, but only during supervised visits, Forbes said.

Monica Lamping-Bogart has been charged with one count of arson in connection to a January fire that burned down her Virginia Beach home. (Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office)
Monica Lamping-Bogart has been charged with one count of arson in connection to a January fire that burned down her Virginia Beach home. (Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office)

Gaines said she is worried that the custody agreement won’t lend itself well to Lamping’s mental state.

In court, Gaines asked, “Will this happen again if she feels custody will be taken away from her?”

Forbes said that since Lamping returned to Virginia Beach she’s been working with a city social worker on her mental health.

Her father, David Bogart, said that Lamping has also been taking medication for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

“She’s struggling in jail,” Otis said, adding that she hasn’t been able to have her medication since she’s been arrested.

Lamping and Oria have been living with her mother and father since Jan. 25.

Bogart testified that Oria is very attached to Lamping, and that the mother is breastfeeding the baby.

“The baby hasn’t slept at night,” since Lamping was arrested, David Bogart testified.

On Wednesday, a Virginia Beach General District Court judge granted Lamping a $25,000 secured bond.

The conditions of her release include continued help from mental health services, confinement to the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake and that she must continue living with her parents.

Lamping will be released from the Virginia Beach Correctional Facility on Wednesday.

To see a live interview with Bullock after the bond hearing, visit Southside Daily’s Facebook page.

Mayfield can be reached at adrienne.m@southsidedaily.com.

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Adrienne Mayfield is an award-winning, multi-media journalist hailing from Clermont, Fla. She moved to Lynchburg, Va. on a whim when she was 19, and worked her way to Hampton Roads in 2013. Adrienne is passionate about telling people stories via covering public safety and the judicial system. She isn’t afraid to take a heads-on approach to covering crime, including knocking on doors to get the details police aren’t sharing. Adrienne is a 2014 Old Dominion University graduate who still lives within walking distance of the college. You may see her cruising around Downtown Norfolk on her bike, enjoying a sandwich from Grilled Cheese Bistro or playing fetch with her dog, Greta, at the Colonial Place dog park.