NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — An arson suspect and former teacher in Norfolk has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

During a court hearing Friday, a judge sentenced 43-year-old Ryan Lee Elza to 15 years behind bars with 5 years suspended.

Elza pleaded guilty back in late July to one count each of arson and destruction of property. Those two charges were later merged into a single arson charge.

He was arrested in June 2021 after he set the fire off of Redgate and Claremont avenues in the West Ghent area of Norfolk.

Patrick McGee, his wife Tiffany and their two sons lost their home on Claremont Avenue. They were home sleeping and watching TV when Elza set the fire.

“We were extremely, extremely lucky to get out of that house,” Patrick McGee said Friday outside the courthouse. The decorated veteran Navy SEAL said it was the “scariest night of my life, not even close”.

When Elza wanted to apologize in court, McGee declined the apology saying, “I have nothing to say to that person. He tried to kill my children.”

Just prior to sentencing, Elza told Judge Everett Martin that what he did was terrible, he was out of control and he was sorry. Elza also said it was never his intention to hurt anyone.

“I wanted to damage the car, that’s as far as it goes,” Elza told the court.

McGee said he had a “weird encounter” with Elza about a week before the incident over a vehicle owned by Elza’s wife, Jacqueline Misoi. It was parked nearby and had been burned a couple of weeks prior, but the cause of that fire remains unknown.

Miso described her husband as a loving and kind father of their son, although Elza left the infant alone in their apartment at the time he set the fire at the McGee home. Misoi was at work at the time.

The McGee’s say the ordeal has left damaging emotional scars on their two sons who were 6 and 5 in June 2021.

“We will spend the rest of their childhood trying to undo what (Elza) did,” Patrick McGee testified.

The boys are in therapy and have asked “Will he come hunting us again?” according to McGee. The older son, as part of his art therapy, made a picture for the sentencing hearing that read “You took our home away”.

“There’s still some fear and safety concerns. Our main priority right now is to re-instill that sense of safety that they had prior to June 11,” Tiffany McGee said.

Elza told the judge that he was ” A sick person and an alcoholic”. Elza previously worked as a teacher at Lake Taylor Middle School and has a master’s degree.

Initially, Elza told us in a jailhouse interview on July 9, 2021, that authorities had the wrong man and that he had nothing to do with the fire.

On the night of the fire, he was seen on surveillance footage carrying lighter fluid and charcoal — the same charcoal found under the victim’s car, where the fire started.

After the sentencing, Patrick McGee said he had mixed feelings about the case and how it was charged in the first place.

“While we think for attempting to kill our entire family he deserved more, the reality is that’s likely the best we could do given the current laws regarding arson,” McGee said. “We asked if he thought it should have been charged as attempted murder. “I do. I don’t know another way to think about it.”

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