Pastor Damon Curtis speaks about the fire that damaged the church.

Middletown church fire ruled arson, suspect, 16, jailed

Fifteen hours after a Middletown police officer saw flames shooting through the roof of the Tytus Avenue First Church of God, 3300 Tytus Ave., Sunday morning, the suspect was charged with arson, breaking and entering and felony theft for his role in the fire.

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The boy was “bragging about the fire” Sunday to his friends, Lt. Jimmy Cunningham told the Journal-News, and someone alerted Middletown police. After reviewing the physical evidence and interviewing the young man, he was arrested and charged, Cunningham said.

The boy allegedly broke into the church around 2:30 a.m., stole $1,000, then set the church on fire, according to court documents obtained by the Journal-News.

Additional charges could be filed against the teen, and there may be more arrests because others may have known about the arson, Cunningham said.

He estimated the damage from the fire at $450,000, but said it could increase.

MORE: 45 children displaced after daycare damaged in fire

The teen, a Middletown High School student, was brought to the detention center at 5:30 p.m. Sunday and charged with three crimes, according to court documents. He was appointed an attorney, Greg Beane, on Monday and had a pre-trial hearing Tuesday morning before Judge Ronald Craft where he gave no plea, said Rob Clevenger, director of the juvenile court.

The suspect remains in the detention center and will attend school at the Juvenile Detention Center, whose educational program is provided by Butler County Educational Services Center, according to documents. The boy will return to the court for a pre-trial hearing next month, court records show.

MORE: Rebuilding after church fire could take ‘6-plus months’

On Tuesday, two days after the fire, workers continued to make repairs to the church and its pastor and day care workers tried to salvage some items.

The Rev. Damon Curtis was told Sunday that an arrest was made, and police announced it publicly Tuesday morning. Curtis said news that a teen was charged with arson left him saddened, but relieved.

“This is a building. A building is replaceable,” he said.

Then he mentioned the suspect. “That’s a young man. The building is temporal and he’s eternal.”

Curtis, who has been at the church for 10 years, said he still has “forgiveness and love” for the young man who allegedly broke into the church and started the fire.

“I would help him,” Curtis said while standing outside the charred church. “What can we do to reach into the community and make a difference? How do we help this young man rebuild his life.”

Until the church is repaired, which may take six months to one year, church services will be held in the gymnasium of Poasttown Church of God on Germantown Road in Middletown.

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