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The Justice Wire

Four Arrested & Charged for St. Leo Church Fire in Tacony

CONTACT:
Jane Roh, 215–686–8711, Jane.Roh@phila.gov

With Help from Public, ATF Task Force IDs Individuals Believed Responsible for May 2021 Arson that Destroyed Historic NE Philly Church

PHILADELPHIA (Sept. 2, 2021) — Following a monthslong investigation aided by tips from the public, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Arson and Explosives Task Force identified and arrested four individuals alleged to be responsible for starting a fire that destroyed the historic St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Tacony on May 9, 2021.

No one was injured in the two-alarm blaze that destroyed the 137-year-old structure, which had been decommissioned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2013 and later sold and slated for redevelopment by a private owner. The ATF Arson and Explosives Task Force — which comprises ATF Philadelphia Field Division special agents, Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) detectives, and Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office investigators — led the criminal investigation. The ATF Task Force and Citizen’s Crime Commission offered a reward of up to $20,000 for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. As a result of an anonymous tip, investigators were able to identify and arrest four suspects, all juveniles, who are accused of unlawfully entering the church property and setting the blaze that destroyed the church.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) has charged two individuals with Arson (F1), Conspiracy (F1), Burglary (F2), and related offenses. The other two individuals are charged with Burglary (F2), Conspiracy (F2), and related offenses. The defendants are not being named due to their status as juveniles at the time of offense and arrest.

“The crimes alleged here harmed the Tacony community. Philadelphia’s historic structures are beloved for so much more than their beauty; in this case, even though the church was being re-developed for private use, St. Leo was revered for its history of baptisms, weddings, memorials, and other milestone life events held by our neighbors in this region over generations,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “Fortunately, there were no injuries or loss of life as a result of this destructive fire. I want to thank the ATF Arson and Explosives Task Force for resolving this investigation, and for working with my office to help ensure these youths are fairly and appropriately held accountable.”

“ATF’s Arson and Explosives Task Force members, along with the Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office, are experts in arson investigations,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. “Arson is a very serious, violent crime and we are lucky there were no fatalities in this fire. ATF will continue its longstanding partnership with the Fire Marshal’s Office and the Philadelphia Police Department and stay the course on our efforts to see that justice prevails in all types of crime which pose harm to our communities. I want to thank the District Attorney’s Office for their diligence and expertise in prosecuting this case.”

“The act of arson that destroyed St. Leo’s Church in May caused irreparable damage to both the structure itself, as well as its surrounding community,” said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. “Through our continued work with our ATF, PFD, and DAO partners, the individuals responsible for this heinous act have been brought to justice. We remain united with our public safety agencies and our community partners to keep our precious City safe.”

Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel said: “These arrests are the result of countless hours of hard work and dedication by members of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Fire Marshal’s Office, in close cooperation with our partners in the ATF and the Philadelphia Police Department. We hope the ultimate resolution of this case is some small comfort to the St. Leo’s family and the Tacony neighborhood.”

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million residents of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives, and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecution of approximately 40,000 criminal cases annually.

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