Jahina Damon's run as an accused matricidal, fugitive arsonist proved to be short-lived.
Damon, 29, was arrested in Hagerstown, Md., at about 6 last night - a little more than 12 hours after police said she fatally shot her mother, Lolita Lee, took aim at two others and then torched her mother's Cobbs Creek rowhouse.
Police said the unthinkably bizarre case started to unfold shortly before 5 a.m., when Damon showed up at her mother's house on Cobbs Creek Parkway near 60th Street.
Damon told her mother that she was due in court later in the day and wanted to see if any paperwork had been sent to Lee's house, said Don Harmon, Lee's boyfriend.
"Next thing I know, she said, 'Mr. Don, I want to talk to everybody in the dining room,' " said Harmon, 67.
The request seemed odd, but Harmon said everyone complied, including Kelly Winters, a friend of Lee's who was at the house visiting.
"She said, 'I got you here now, and I want to apologize for everything that happened before. I want you to know I'm seeking help now,' " Harmon recalled last night.
Damon had a history of mental illness, including bipolar disorder, and often had a contentious relationship with her mother, Harmon said.
"I was happy for her. She clearly needed help, so I thought it was great," he said.
But after a lull in the conversation, Damon wheeled around with a handgun and opened fire, fatally shooting Lee, 53, in the chest, police said.
Harmon said Damon continued to blast away, although she failed to hit him or Winters. He said they both quivered on the floor in fear.
"I figured she'd start shooting again, but then she threw something on the floor, lit a lighter and said, 'May God have mercy on y'all's souls," Harmon said as he stood a few houses away from the charred remnants of Lee's home, his hands trembling.
The dining room and kitchen were immediately engulfed in flames and smoke. Harmon managed to escape uninjured, but Winters, 49, was severely burned over much of her body.
Homicide Capt. Michael Costello said Winters was in critical condition at Crozer-Chester Burn Center in Upland, Delaware County, adding that "her prognosis is uncertain."
Firefighters responded to the blaze at 5:11 a.m. and brought it under control in a few minutes. Officials said firefighters found Lee's body burned beyond recognition.
Costello said Damon had recently been staying near Baltimore. Maryland police were tipped last night that she had been seen in Hagerstown and they moved in quickly, investigators said.
Damon will be extradited to Philadelphia to face charges of murder, arson and related offenses.
Despite her apparent mental problems, no one expected Damon's dispute with Lee to turn deadly.
"The cops came here a lot, but [Lee] never took it as anything like this," Harmon said. "They argued, but she never let her daughter dominate her."
Harmon said Damon came up from Baltimore a few weeks ago to visit her father, who had some medical problems.
"We didn't hear from her until she came here this morning. Then, everything happened so fast . . . it was like a nightmare," Harmon said, as his voice trailed off.
Harmon said he and Lee had been dating for about three years. She had spent her whole life in the same Cobbs Creek neighborhood.
"I've known her pretty much all of my life. She was more of the type to always keep to herself," said neighbor Scott Rockeymore, 53. "Still, anytime you'd see her, she'd always say, 'Hi.' "
Harmon paused last night and glanced toward Lee's house. Window screens were torn and tattered, and dozens of glass shards glistened in the alley by the house.
"We were going to celebrate Christmas together, but I guess it didn't turn out that way," he said. "I'm still hurting because I can't bring her back." *
Staff writer Damon C. Williams contributed to this report.