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Arrest made in Tyrone church fire

A downtown Tyrone church was set on fire early Sunday morning and Tyrone Borough Police have arrested a 17-year-old male juvenile in connection with the case.
Tyrone police chief Joseph Beachem told The Daily Herald at least one other arrest is expected in the case. He said the other suspect is also a male juvenile. The chief added it’s possible there could be other suspects.
State Police Fire Marshall Michael Eppilito said the fire at the Christ United Methodist Church was an arson. He conducted an investigation into the fire on Sunday morning and did a normal fire examination. He said he had no damage estimate available and referred all other questions about the case to Beachem.
“We were able to recover a lot of physical evidence at the scene,” said Beachem.
He said officers on duty early Sunday morning had been answering calls regarding a group of 10 to 12 juveniles who had been causing problems from the river to the Blair and Bald Eagle Avenue area. He said officers responded to calls of suspicious activities and underage drinking. Most of the individuals had been identified by an officer and three were eventually arrested for underage drinking and disorderly conduct.
Beachem said the rest of the group ran into the woods by the river and “were hiding from the officers for quite sometime.” He said officers found evidence from the entry point at the south end of the church, a broken window and blood in the room. He said the police knew they were looking with someone with an injury and that led them to the suspect who was arrested.
“(All they took was) four dollars, and they displaced an entire congregation and ruined an historic church for no reason whatsoever,” said Beachem.
As for the fire, the first call came in about 3 a.m. Sunday, when Tyrone police officer Jeffrey Barr smelled smoke and then saw flames at the building located at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Fire chief Robert Lynn said both Tyrone companies, Bellwood, a ladder truck from Philipsburg and a tanker from Bald Eagle’s department responded to the scene. He said the fire was brought under control by 4:30 a.m. Lynn said about 45 firefighters fought the blaze and no injuries were suffered by the fire crews. The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army provided refreshments for the firefighters. Tipton was on standby at The Hookies, according to Lynn.
After fire investigators had gone through the building, church officials were allowed back in to assess the damage.
Pastor Dennis Reedy said the church is “up in the air” about how and where it will conduct services in the future. On Sunday, services were held in the church parking lot thanks to the help of firefighters and spectators who helped carry about 50 chairs from the building. They were washed down to get them ready for the congregation.
Reedy said there was some sentiment to continue holding services in the lot “as a statement to show we aren’t going to be defeated.” The pastor said the church has an already scheduled council meeting this evening and future plans will be discussed there.
Reedy said the church would need to be professionally cleaned and an extent of damage determined.
He said, “The insurance people will help us with that. Everything in the building is covered in soot.”
He described heat damage to a third of the sanctuary, the blackening of the ceiling, smoke and heat damage to the seating area and front entrance problems. He said if the building can be cleaned up and repaired it would be about a four-to-six month time frame.
Reedy explained how churchgoers were taking the news of the fire by describing it as “an emotional blow, the loss of a loved one.”
He said, “All of their faith journey is connected to that building.”
Reedy noted with the exception of a just a couple of members, the 92-year-old building is the only one they know. He said from a theological aspect, “The building is where you work from, but the real church is the people.”
He told those attending the parking lot services on Sunday, “The building may be damaged, but we are still alive, alive in the church.”