updated 4/18/2004 10:18:08 PM ET 2004-04-19T02:18:08

Police said a man accused of starting an apartment fire that killed five people was trying to settle a score with a tenant he believed had assaulted a neighborhood woman.

Rodney Williams, 28, admitted buying a 99-cent bottle of rubbing alcohol on Friday night and leaving it in the Brooklyn building’s lobby, police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Sunday. Early Saturday morning, Williams re-entered the building, soaked advertising circulars he found in the lobby with the rubbing alcohol and set them on fire, Kelly said.

The blaze rapidly engulfed the building’s staircase and killed four members of an extended family, including a 2-year-old girl, who lived on the third floor of the building. A man who lived on the second floor also died.

“It was a terrible event brought about by some form of passion,” Kelly said at a news conference. “There was this intent on Mr. Williams’ part, we believe, to settle a score, send a message to an individual in the building.”

The man Williams was targeting lived in the building’s basement apartment and survived, police said. Williams’ relationships to the targeted tenant and the woman, who did not live in the building, were not immediately known.

As flames shot through the building, Williams returned and helped several people out of windows on the second floor, Kelly said. Twelve people, including three firefighters, were injured.

Williams was to be arraigned by early Monday on counts of murder, depraved indifference, arson and reckless endangerment, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said. It was not immediately known whether he had a lawyer.

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