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Alachua County Fla--Teens Linked to Series of Church Fires From 2002

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    ATLANTA (AP) - Three Georgia churches went up in flames within
    three days over the weekend, fire officials said.
    "It's been a busy weekend for arson people," said Insurance
    Commissioner John Oxendine.
    The causes of the fires are undetermined, and no major injuries
    were reported.
    The latest fire broke out just before 10 a.m. Sunday at the
    Southside Baptist Church in Waycross. The church, the largest of
    the three, was destroyed by the fire.
    Search dogs and investigators poked around the remains Sunday
    afternoon, but Oxendine said they would have to wait until Monday
    for the building to completely cool off.
    Just a day earlier, the Providence Christian Center in Lithonia
    was partially burned, causing $50,000 in damages.
    "It looks suspicious, but we can't definitely say whether it's
    arson," Oxendine said.
    The first of the three, the Evangel Temple Church in Morrow, was
    destroyed Friday night by a fire that started just after 11 p.m.
    The fire started in a classroom behind the large aluminum building
    that's shared by three congregations.
    Two Clayton County firefighters suffered minor injuries,
    Oxendine said. He estimated $670,000 in damages.
    Although the causes of the fires still are unknown, Oxendine
    said fires in older churches are usually started because of
    outdated wiring and makeshift kitchens.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • Alachua County Fla--Teens Linked to Series of Church Fires From 2002

    2 teens linked to arson at three churches in area

    By LISE FISHER
    Sun staff writer

    Two teenagers have been tied to a series of firebombs last year.

    The two, who Alachua County school records show are Buchholz High School graduates, have been under investigation for several weeks for the Nov. 11 fires at churches in the southwest Gainesville area.

    The two northwest Gainesville residents, one 17 and the other 18, have been linked by investigators with a series of firebombs set off at three Gainesville-area churches last year.

    "We've sent sworn complaints to the State Attorney's Office for their review," said Alachua County Sheriff's Lt. Jim Troiano Friday.

    The complaints recommend charges for arson, burglary and the manufacture and throwing of a destructive device, Troiano said.

    The two, who Alachua County school records show are Buchholz High School graduates, have been under investigation for several weeks for the Nov. 11 fires at churches in the southwest Gainesville area. The three churches are Parker Road Baptist Church, 3200 SW 122nd St., The Rock, 9818 SW 24th Ave., and The Family Church, 2022 SW 122nd St.

    Two church vans in the parking lot at the Parker Road Baptist Church were burned in the fire. Deputies found evidence that two Molotov cocktails, bottles filled with gasoline and plugged with rags, had been set off.

    Firebombs also were set off in parking lots at the The Rock and The Family Church. Neither building was damaged.

    Investigators later received information about a minivan at one of the churches at about the time of the fires.

    Early on in the investigation, law enforcement reported the fires likely were the work of teenage vandals.

    Asked how investigators zeroed in on the two, Troiano said information was gathered from different investigative sources, investigators made contact with both, interviewed them and prepared the sworn complaints.

    A possible motive for the fire at the Parker Road Baptist Church was burglary.

    "There was a burglary that took place and to cover up the burglary, the vans were burned," Troiano said. He also said there was no indication that any of the churches had been broken into.

    Before the case moves forward, prosecutors will review information gathered by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and Alachua County Fire Rescue, said Spencer Mann with the State Attorney's Office.

    "It will be assigned to a prosecutor to review in order to make decisions on appropriate charges," Mann said.

    Representatives from the three churches could not be reached Friday.

    A person could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for arson. The other charges carry a maximum five-year penalty.

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