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Alabama/The Mobile News

Students charged in arson

Four Davidson High School teens accused of setting fire at church

Friday, February 04, 2005

Staff Reporter

Four high school teenagers were issued warrants charging them with
second-degree arson in connection with a fire at Dayspring Baptist Church
in west Mobile more than a month ago, officials said Tuesday.

Three of the four boys reported to Strickland Youth Center on Tuesday
afternoon. Their names could not be released because of their ages, said
Steve Huffman, spokesman for the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department.

The fourth boy had not turned himself in by Tuesday evening but was
expected to, Huffman said.

The boys range in age from 15 to 17, and attend Davidson High School in
Mobile, officials said. Were they adults, they could have faced federal
charges, said Mike Messinger, resident agent in charge of the Mobile
office of the Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Dec. 26 fire started shortly before 9 p.m. and caused about $10,000
worth of damage to the exterior of a brand-new building, Huffman said.
Huffman said he would not give information about the way that the fire was

ATF officials are called to the scene of any church fire that appears to
be suspicious, Messinger said. "It was common knowledge that there had
been previous acts of juvenile vandalism at the church," he said.
Federal authorities offered a $2,500 reward for information to help solve
the case, Messinger said.

Messinger would not provide details about possible informants. The reward
money has not been distributed yet, Messinger said.

Davidson Assistant Principal Kenneth Edwards said police interviewed
several students about the incident but that, for the most part, most
students hadn't heard about the fire by Thursday afternoon.

Edwards said that the issue will be handled strictly by police, since the
fire did not oc cur during school hours or on the campus. The students
have not been suspended or otherwise punished by the school system, he

Edwards said he did not know the students' names, ages or grade levels.
"It's definitely a police matter," added Mobile County schools spokeswoman
Nancy Pierce.

Known as "The Shack," the building that burned at 2200 S. Cody Road was
constructed as a youth center for sixth- through 12th-graders, said David
Johnson, senior pastor of Dayspring.

The night of the blaze, a lock-in for ninth graders had been scheduled to
start around 9 o'clock but was canceled because of the fire, Johnson said.

Johnson said an accelerant was poured on the wood veneer paneling on the
exterior of the building. Luckily, it did not propel flames to the roof,
he said.

Three windows burst during the fire, Johnson said. Workers needed two to
three weeks to make repairs to two rooms of the center, including removing
the smell and water from the carpets of two of the classrooms.

Johnson said the arrests would bring closure for his church, which has
about 1,700 members in its congregation.

"My heart goes out to (the boys) and their families," he said. "We truly
feel no hard feelings to the people who did this."

A grand opening for the 14,000-square-foot facility, complete with a
rock-climbing wall, is 4 p.m. Sunday. The public is invited to watch the
Super Bowl on a projection screen, play volleyball and participate in
other activities, Johnson said.

(Staff Reporter Rena Havner contributed to this report)

(Note: This case was tried and the boys were acquitted.)


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