PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Investigators said on Thursday that the massive fire at the large Saint-Léon church in Tacony was intentionally ignited. Now the authorities are offering a reward of $ 20,000 for information leading to the arsonist.
St. Leo’s was a staple in this community for decades. Even after his vacation, families have retained these memories. Now investigators say someone intentionally set the building on fire.
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The historic building is now a shell of what it once was.
“I can’t believe anyone would do this,” said Charlene Riedel Choate, a Tacony resident.
The walls are standing, but everything inside is charred debris.
ATF-certified investigators, who are trained in the signs of fire, were able to access it and deemed the fire to be arson.
“ATF always responds to church fires. This is one of our main missions, at least in the A&E function, which is the fire and explosives function, ”said ATF Special Supervisory Agent Charles Doerrer.
Due to extensive damage, firefighters had to tear down the church steeple for fear that it would collapse.
For generations, the Choate family celebrated milestones in St. Leo’s.
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“We all went to church here, to school here. We did all of our sacraments, we buried our family members here. It was everything, it was our life, ”she said.
Now emotional, she takes what’s left of it. The building was vacant for years and was purchased about a month ago. Investigators say the new owner is cooperating with authorities and is not a suspect.
“As I understand it he tries to hire it out to another congregation and often he gets dance studios or performing artists who are interested in running him and one of those plans is what he was hoping to do with it. this place, ”Doerrer said.
The ATF, Philadelphia Police and the Office of the Fire Marshal are working together to investigate this violent crime.
There is a $ 20,000 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person (s) responsible for the fire.
Officials say you may have seen something that seems insignificant to you, but could be critical in the matter.
Anyone with information on the person (s) responsible for the fire should contact ATF at 1-888-ATF-TIPS (888-283-8477), send an email to ATFTips@atf.gov or contact ATF through their website at www.atf.gov / contact / atftips. Tips can also be directed to the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s office via a mobile device by following: bit.ly/PHLarsontips.
Tips can also be submitted to ATF using the ReportIt® app, available both on Google Play and the Apple App Store, or by visiting www.reportit.com.
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All calls and tips will be kept confidential.