Teenager Charged With Starting Melrose Church Fire in 2016
MELROSE -- A teenager has been charged with intentionally starting the fire that destroyed the St. Mary's Catholic Church in Melrose back in March 2016.
The Stearns County Sheriff's Office says investigators recently re-interviewed a number of people and potential evidence was re-examined. On Tuesday, June 5th the Sheriff's Office Investigators conducted an interview with a juvenile. During the course of that interview, the juvenile confessed that they intentionally set the arson fire at the church.
The then 13-year-old has been charged with Arson in the First Degree in Stearns County Juvenile Court. That person's name has not been released.
Bishop Donald Kettler of the Diocese of St. Cloud released a written statement on the arrest:
I am thankful for the persistence and commitment of the local, state, and federal authorities who investigated this arson case. I hope this news can be another step in the healing process for the people of St. Mary's Church in Melrose. I and the people our diocese have been praying for the Melrose community since the time of the fire, and we will continue to offer whatever support they need as they work to build a new church and plan for the future. I will also be praying for the youth who was charged and their family. I hope they, too, receive the help they need. As Christians, we are committed to justice, but justice must also be tempered by mercy, and it must never abandon hope for a person's reform.
Tim Vogel is lead organizer for the group Friends to Restore St. Mary's. Since the fire, the group has been fighting to restore the current church. He says the discovery of who set the blaze doesn't change their mission but it does answer several questions.
"As far as we're concerned nothing has changed because our group is still pushing forward to the restoration of the church. One good thing is that they know who did it, that will get rid of the rumors that have been going around the last couple of years, that part of it is kind of a relief for our group."
The fire was started on March 11, 2016, at 4:45 p.m. The fire was not contained until 8:30 p.m. that night. The blaze caused $5 million in damage.
The St. Mary's Church in Melrose was dedicated in 1899.