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Janet Danahey Tells Her Story

4:23 AM, Feb 11, 2003   |    comments
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It's an exclusive interview with never before heard details about one of Greensboro's deadliest fires.

Janet Danahey tells her story in a television interview for the first time.

One year ago this week a fire at Campus Walk Apartments in Greensboro took four young lives.

Ryan Bek, Beth Harris and Rachel and Donna Llewellyn died in the early hours of February 15th, 2002.

Days later, police arrested another young woman.

Janet Danahey admitted to setting the fire.

A judge sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Janet Danahey says she's replayed the details of that night over in her head a thousand times, and feels like she's told her story almost as many, but never publicly, in her own words.

She says she owes the entire community an explanation of what she did and why she did it.

Janet chose her words carefully, knowing the those listening would scrutinize everything she said.

WFMY News2's Rosemary Plybon sat down with Janet Danahey inside The North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women.

The shirt she wears is prison-issued. The blue jeans came from home. Janet's appearance on this day strikingly different than when we saw her in court last July.

Janet says she felt it was time she told her story.

"Because it is a way to make people realize that I am a real person, I am not some fictional, evil person"

She talks about her friends and how they liked to play pranks. And she says it was a prank she and her friends were planning last Valentines Day.

"I had dated the guy who lived in the apartment before but it had nothing to do with the relationship or any retaliation what so ever, it was just a prank on the friends"

She was hanging out with 2 girlfriends.

"We said, lets play a prank on the boys."

"One of our friends talked about putting tuna juice in a car vent, that it would smell, we thought that would be so funny to do that to them. So when we went by, we saw that his car wasn't there, so what else can we do."

She says that's when they thought about setting a fire.

"And what ended up happening is we went by and played our prank and stuff and I went back to my house."

"It was kind of like after you start a charcoal grill kind of the smoldering and we were under the impression, they would look out the window and be like oh my god our Christmas decorations are on fire."

That's all she told us the first time, but on my second visit to the prison Janet admitted when the decorations didn't burn, she poured lighter fluid on a futon and set that on fire.

"We thought the fire was a porch fire and we flipped out and said we are going to have to pay for this damage to their porch. Then we drove by, and we were going to stop and talk to the guys and apologize and that is when we saw what the building looked like and it was complete shock after that."

Then Janet says she made another mistake.

"One of my friends said the insurance people are going to want to know all of this stuff, we need to get the lighter fluid and your jacket and things like that and get rid of them. I said fine, whatever and went along with it."

But Janet says it wasn't until she saw the 5 o'clock news that she knew how bad the fire really was.

"I remember thinking, I need to pray this is beyond my control now and I went up to my bathroom and I kind of knelt down and I remember thinking I can't really hear God saying anything to me its like how horrible of a person am I, he will not acknowledge my existence and I said please you have to help me."

The next day Janet drove home to her parents. Her friends went to police.

"I had no idea what to do and I know I should have gone to the police, but at the time, your brain does not make the decisions like it should well and so I went home."

Janet didn't tell her parents what happened until after her arrest.

"When I am able to talk to my family, that is when I am my saddest because I think here I am able to still speak with them especially because the victims were my age, here's so much potential, dreams and grandchildren that their families will not experience."

It's a pain Janet says she carries with her every day.

"Even if you spend twenty years in prison, it doesn't matter if it is five or twenty, no place can make you feel as bad as you, yourself can make you feel. I made a big mistake and I am sorry for it."

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