A teenager accused of trying to light two churches on fire, including one building twice, has been arrested for investigation of arson.
The 17-year-old faces three arson counts for incidents last week and earlier this week at a Catholic church and LDS Church ward house. In each case, a soda can filled with gasoline was thrown through the glass window of the churches after the can was set on fire.
The first incident happened early in the morning on May 29 at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, 7405 S. 1700 West. The fiery pop can was thrown through a glass window, catching some curtains on fire, said West Jordan Battalion Chief Marc McElreath.
Two days later, a ward house for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located a short distance away from St. Joseph, had a Molotov cocktail thrown through its window and the carpet caught fire, he said.
On Thursday, a third cocktail was thrown, this time at St. Joseph for a second time.
Damage to the churches from all three incidents on three separate days was minimal, said West Jordan Fire Chief Brad Wardle. The fires either extinguished themselves or never got going in the first place, he said.
"Both were kind of failed efforts," said Father Patrick Carley of the two fires at St. Joseph.
Carley was immediately notified after the second fire, which he said was very small and he was able to put out immediately.
"I doused it with the nearest water I had, a container of holy water," he said. "If it wasn't so messy and dirty, I would have gotten on my knees and blown it out."
After Thursday's incident, a witness reported seeing a boy, between the ages of 15 and 18, fleeing from the church, McElreath said. Using that little bit of information, fire investigators went door-to-door in the neighborhood near the churches.
"Investigators put their heads together, started knocking on doors, took witness statements, got a suspect description ... some good detective work," Wardle said.
The investigators eventually came across the house of a teen, who lived near both churches. After talking to him for just a little bit, red flags were raised.
"The gut suspicion of the investigator was right on," Wardle said.
After questioning the boy for awhile, he eventually confessed to the fires, he said.
Fire officials believe there were others involved, however, and additional arrests are pending.
Although the fires were small, Wardle said they could have been much worse and he expected any charges that are filed to reflect that.
"If you have a Molotov cocktail, for us your intent is to burn the building. We're going to charge them as if it was a raging inferno," he said.
Wardle said he didn't want to minimize what happened by saying the teen and his friends were "just being kids." But he did not believe the attacks rose to the level of a hate crime. The FBI, however, is part of the investigation, Wardle said.
Carley said he held no ill will toward the boy and would actually like to meet with him."We're very glad that the episode has ended. We're glad we don't have to worry about a fire bomber out there on the loose," he said. "We don't bare any animosity for him. We feel sorry for him and his family. I'm just hoping that he will get some good direction and shape himself up."
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