UPDATE @ 12:20 p.m. (Jan. 24): The 16-year-old Middletown boy charged with arson, breaking and entering and felony theft gave no plea this morning when he appeared before Judge Ronald Craft in Butler County Juvenile Court.
The boy will return to the court for a pre-trial hearing next month, court records show.
The teen was brought to the detention center at 5:30 p.m. Sunday and charged with three crimes, documents show. He was appointed an attorney on Monday and had a pre-trial hearing this morning when he gave no plea, said Rob Clevenger, director of the juvenile court.
The suspect remains in the detention center, Clevenger said.
UPDATE @ 11 a.m. (Jan. 24):
The Rev. Damon Curtis said after he was told by police a suspect in the church fire was arrested, he felt sadness and relief.
“That we have somebody in our society that is making mistakes,” he said.
He was relieved, he said, to find out what caused the fire.
The pastor, 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. “What can we do to reach into the community and make a difference? How do we help this young man rebuild his life.”
Michele Ferguson, office manager of the day care center at the church, said she was “shocked” that someone allegedly started a fire in a church and day care facility.
“He must have problems obviously,” she said of the suspect. “That’s horrible. I hope he gets help.”
What would be her message to him?
“Why,” she asked. “Did you want money? Are you angry?”
She heard that the young man was seen standing in the parking lot while firefighters battled the blaze.
UPDATE @ 10:42 a.m. (Jan. 24):
Police received a tip Sunday that the 16-year-old was “bragging about the fire” to his friends, Middletown Police Lt. Jimmy Cunningham told this news outlet.
Cunningham said after reviewing the physical evidence and interviewing the young man, the 16-year-old was arrested and charged.
He said additional charges will be filed and there may be other arrests made. Cunningham estimated the damage from the fire at $450,000, but said it could increase.
Cunningham said the arson was “very disturbing and shocking.”
UPDATE @ 9:53 a.m. (Jan. 24):
The fire at Tytus Avenue First Church of God has been ruled an arson and a 16-year-old boy has been charged and arrested, police said.
According to investigators, the 16-year-old is also a suspect in two other vehicle arson fires and is currently booked into the Butler County Juvenile Detention Center for breaking and entering and arson in connection to the church fire.
Damage from the fire is estimated to be around $450,000.
A 40-year-old box turtle inside the offices of the church died in the fire, police said.
The juvenile appeared Monday in Butler County Juvenile Court, according to police. His next court date is Feb. 8, acccording to records.
The Rev. Damon Curtis certainly didn’t sound like a pastor whose church was severely damaged Sunday morning, displacing his congregation and its day care center that serves 45 local children.
He said the fire that ripped through the Tytus Avenue First Church of God, 3300 Tytus Ave., around 2:30 a.m. Sunday may actually be “a great blessing” because it will “shake us out of our normal and into God’s normal. He always wants us moving.”
The pastor also was thankful no one from the church or Middletown firefighters were injured battling the blaze. The cause of the fire and estimated value of the damages are unknown, said Capt. Jeff Spaulding, of the Middletown Division of Fire. He said the extensive damage and the amount of debris were hindering the department’s investigation.
A crew from Dry Patrol secured the building Monday and covered the roof with a tarp, Curtis said.
Curtis said the church has insurance and plans to rebuild.
“There are positives,” he said. “The building can be replaced; people can’t. The building is not the church. The people are the church.”
Hours after the fire was reported, Curtis said other churches contacted him about assisting in the recovery. He heard from Middletown churches and those from neighboring states.
“We tend to pull together,” he said. “That’s community.”
On Sunday, church services were held in the gymnasium of Poasttown Church of God on Germantown Road in Middletown and attracted 91 members, a number lower than normal because the church didn’t have the ability to bus neighborhood children, he said. The next service is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday.
He said the congregation will meet at Poasttown until another site is located. The future of the church’s day care center is uncertain, he said. He said the state day care license is only good in that building and is non-transferable.
Ohio Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, said she contacted day care representatives and was told that according to state law, the center had to be operational in the facility within 90 days after the fire.
After touring the church Monday, Keller said that was “not possible.” She asked her staff to contact the state licensing board about giving the church an extension.
“How sad. Such a devastating loss. This church is very much loved in this community,” Keller said after surveying the damage to the church.
Curtis said for those who want to help the church rebuild, an account for donations will be established at LCNB.
Staff Writer Michael Pitman contributed to this report.
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