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Teens suspected of church arson released to parents after hearing

The two Tyrone teens accused of setting a fire that torched a downtown church were released to their parents yesterday.
Tyrone police arrested one of the teens, a then 17-year-old male, on the same day of the fire at the Christ United Methodist Church. A few days later, a second teen, a 16-year-old boy, was arrested in Altoona.
The teens were charged in the fire that heavily damaged the church in the early morning hours on June 5. Church members were left to attend services in the parking lot that morning. Since then services have been moved to the chapel at Epworth Manor while repairs are made at the church’s educational unit. Once completed, services will be moved to that location while more extensive repairs are made to the sanctuary.
Previously, Blair County District Attorney Dave Gorman said the two teens face a host of charges stemming from the fire. Those charges include arson, burglary, recklessly endangering another person as well as other charges including, trespassing, and conspiracy to commit theft, institutional vandalism and failure to prevent a catastrophe.
This morning, John Dively, deputy director of the Blair County Juvenile Probation office explained the process that led to the teens being released.
He said the juvenile court was required to hold a 10-day hearing regarding the teenagers. Yesterday’s hearing before Judge Elizabeth Doyle was the second such hearing for them since they were taken into custody earlier this month. Dively said the first 10-day hearing was held on June 15. He also noted a 72-hour hearing is held after a juvenile is detained as required by the state’s juvenile system.
He said if the charges against the accused aren’t heard at the second hearing then juveniles must be released back to their parents or guardians. He said the only other way to continue holding the teens at this point would be if prosecutors were waiting on evidence. Dively said that did not apply in this instance, so the court was required to release them.
Earlier this month, Gorman decided he wanted to pursue having the teens moved from the juvenile system to adult court. Both are expected back before Judge Doyle on July 6 when a hearing is scheduled to determine whether or not the case should be moved to the adult justice system.
Dively confirmed the court has received a request for a continuance of the hearing from a defense attorney. He said a determination on the request has not been made as of yet.
The names of the teens have not been made public since they were both under 18 at the time of the incident. In a previous Daily Herald article, Gorman confirmed one of the teens turned 18 within days after the fire. If their cases were moved to adult court their names would become a matter of public record.
He said he is seeking to have the case moved from the juvenile system to adult court because of the age of the suspects. He said the alleged acts are felonies and showed an “adult intent.”
Gorman has contended the alleged acts showed “a sophistication” in that the fires were set in five places throughout the church. Those and other actions are being considered “intentional.” He said he also took into consideration the impact the fire had on church members who had to find another location to attend services.
Gorman said upon conviction, the options for punishment in the juvenile system would vary. The teens could be placed in detention centers or released back to their parents. In the adult system, they could face jail time, probation or be assigned to an intermediate punishment program.
The Christ United Methodist Church opened its doors in 1913 and suffered at least $500,000 in damage as a result of the fire at the building located at the intersection of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.