NEWARK — A city man with a history of setting deadly and devastating fires is facing a new arson charge a month after his son was gunned down on a city street.

Nathaniel Mickens, 56, was arrested Wednesday and charged with second-degree aggravated arson. Officials said he started the April 14 fire at a vacant property on the 500 block of 13th Avenue, which is in the Fairmount neighborhood of the West Ward.

In 1988, a day after he had been evicted, Mickens set a fire to his apartment building. The blaze killed the landlady — 46-year-old Emma Jean Thomas — and left 90 of his neighbors homeless after the flames spread to five other buildings on South 11th Street.

After pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter, Mickens was sentenced in 1989 to 30 years in prison. A decade before the state passed the No Early Release Act, Mickens had the opportunity to be paroled after 15 years but served 21 years, according to his daughter.

Now, investigators are pointing to other recent fires. Police said Mickens was tied to the West Ward fire by witnesses and surveillance cameras.

“We’ve had a rash of fires in vacant buildings recently,” Public Safety Director Anthony said Friday. “These purposely set fires put our firefighters and the neighboring community at tremendous risk.”

His arrest comes a month after a personal tragedy. Mickens' 32-year-old son, Nathaniel Mickens Jr., was killed April 29 when he was shot about 2:30 a.m. on the 400 block of 7th Avenue. Police have not charged anyone with that crime or said whether they know the motive.

The elder Mickens' daughter, LaToya Gosier, said her father and brother were family men. Mickens Jr. leaves behind three young children, she said.

"My father is a great father and grandfather to all of us and would never jeopardize his freedom again for anything, let alone something that he paid 21 years of his life," she said.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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