"I still can't believe that it happened," Airman Monty Ponder said on a video call from Japan. "I lost everything."
Prosecutors said Andre Lemon Dunson, 43, set the bags on fire Jan. 30, destroying photos that were part of a 9/11 memorial on several walls of the stairwell.
Dunson was caught on surveillance video stealing three pieces of luggage that were left unattended on the ticketing level, according to a probable cause document.
Ponder said he and other military members had some time before their flight to Japan so he went up to the United Service Organization. When he got back five to 10 minutes later, he said, his bags were gone.
Using the surveillance video, police said they followed Dunson to a stairwell of the airport parking garage.
“This is not a space that you want to be doing something that can be seen on camera,” airport spokesperson Perry Cooper said.
At the time, Ponder was filling out a lost bag report with Port of Seattle police and heard the commotion on the scanner.
“They opened the stairwell, and all you hear is them screaming about a fire and flames,” he said.
Police said Dunson later admitted to intentionally taking the luggage from the military member and decided to burn items after he went through the bags.
Ponder, who had been home to Texas for a loved one’s funeral, lost Air Force uniforms, clothing, shoes and electronics.
“They were just burned – my favorite jackets, my favorite shirts, all of my pants and socks,” he said.
Dunson was booked into the King County Jail. His arraignment, where he will enter a plea, is expected later this month.
In their bail request, prosecutors expressed concerns that Dunson has no ties to the community and said “he may be unable to control his behavior.”
Dunson’s criminal history includes convictions out of state for burglary, battery and obstruction, among others.
Port of Seattle firefighters are trying to determine if they can salvage some of the photos from the memorial or if they have to reprint them all. Cooper said the firefighters often use the stairwell to train in full gear for events like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Firefighter Stairclimb.