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14-Year-Old Boy Charged With Setting Fire to LES Synagogue, Police Say

By Allegra Hobbs | May 17, 2017 9:15am | Updated on May 17, 2017 1:24pm
 The historic Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue was largely destroyed in a fire Sunday evening.
The historic Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue was largely destroyed in a fire Sunday evening.
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LOWER EAST SIDE — A 14-year-old boy was arrested Tuesday evening in connection with starting a massive fire that destroyed a historic Lower East Side synagogue.

►UPDATE: Teen Accused of Burning Down LES Synagogue Released Without Charges: Source

The teen, whose name was not released because he is a minor, was arrested around 8 p.m. in the 7th Precinct and charged with third-degree arson for the blaze that tore through Beth Hamedrash Hagodol at 62 Norfolk St., according to authorities.

He had been apprehended at his Lower East Side home, according to police.

He is being charged as a juvenile in family court, according to a spokesman with the city's law department.

The three-alarm fire that broke out Sunday night destroyed the landmarked structure's ceiling and much of the walls, reducing them to a 15-foot pile of rubble on the synagogue floor. The blaze was subdued by more than 100 firefighters within five hours.

Soon after, police recovered video footage of three teens fleeing the area near the synagogue around the time the fire broke out.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce on Tuesday said police believed the fire was set intentionally by those teens, but Wednesday police said do not intend to make more arrests. 

Following the arrest, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said the other two teens were considered witnesses and that the incident is not believed to be a hate crime.

"There were some other children with the 14-year-old. They're considered witnesses right now," said O'Neill at an NYPD religious leaders meeting Wednesday in Morningside Heights. "It doesn't appear to be bias related at this time."

According to a police source, the two other teens who fled the scene gave up the defendant when questioned by police, claiming he alone had started the blaze.

The FDNY on Tuesday said the investigation was ongoing and the cause of the fire had not yet been determined. The department did not immediately return a request for comment following the arrest.


►'Suspicious' Footage Shows 3 Fleeing Area Near Synagogue That Burned: NYPD

Historic LES Synagogue Fire Believed to Be Arson, NYPD Says

►Fire Tears Through Historic Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue on LES: FDNY