2 Years Later, Teen Charged with Arson of Historic Melrose Church

June 20, 2018 06:34 PM

Stearns County officials have charged a teenager in connection with a fire that occurred at a historic Catholic church in Melrose in March 2016.

Authorities charged the individual, who was 13 years old at the time of the incident, with first-degree arson after the individual confessed to intentionally setting the fire at the church.


Stearns County authorities launched an investigation after the the fire occurred at about 4:30 p.m. at St. Mary's Catholic Church on Fifth Ave. SE, on March 11.

RELATED: Fire Damages Historic Melrose Catholic Church

The State Fire Marshal's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted in the investigation of the fire, which caused millions of dollars in damage to the 118-year-old Romanesque Revival-style building.

RELATED: Melrose Church Fire Damage Could Reach $1 Million

According to authorities, for the next 22 months, "the Melrose Police Department diligently investigated the arson along with their state and federal partners."

RELATED: Melrose Church Fire Unsolved 1 Year Later, Community Divided on Future Plans

In January, Melrose police asked the Stearns County Sheriff's Office for assistance.

After a review of the file and a re-interviewing process, investigators conducted an interview with the teenager on June 5, which was when the confession took place.

"Any unsolved crime produces a sense of unease in communities," Sheriff Don Gudmundson said in a statement.

"I know the arson of the church has left an indelible mark on the entire area. In solving the case, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office was pleased to take the fine investigative work of the Melrose Police Department, the Minnesota State Fire Marshal and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to a successful conclusion. It is our hope that this will be a positive step in putting the community at ease along with the healing for the congregation of St. Mary's Catholic Church."

People in town told 5 EYEWITNESS the arrest brings closure.

"It just sat in the back of your mind - I wonder what they're going to do," Melrose resident Dan Harren said.

"What's going to happen? It will help a lot."

RELATED: Despite Opposition, Leaders Move Forward on New Melrose Church After Fire


Rebecca Omastiak

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