14-Year-Old Boy Arrested In Connection With Fire that Destroyed Lower East Side Synagogue

CBS 2 - May 18, 2017

by CBS News

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A 14-year-old boy was arrested in connection with a fire that destroyed a vacant Lower East Side synagogue that once housed New York City’s oldest Orthodox Jewish congregation.

The NYPD said Wednesday that the boy was in custody on an arson charge.

On Tuesday, police were reviewing surveillance video that showed several teens fleeing the area at the time of the blaze around 7 p.m. Sunday, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.

Sources said detectives tracked them down and the investigation led them to the 14-year-old, whom the teens said started the fire inside the building, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.

O’Neill said the other teens are considered witnesses and that it doesn’t appear the fire was set as a bias crime.

No one was injured in the blaze.

“Kids will be kids,” Ezra Turkel, who lives in the neighborhood, told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez. “That’s the way it is. It’s a horrible thing to do. A lot of people could’ve gotten hurt.”

The Gothic structure was built in 1850 as a Baptist church.

It was purchased in 1885 by the Orthodox congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol. The synagogue was closed in 2007.

Some have advocated for the empty structure to be torn down while other groups, including one on Facebook, wanted to save it with some pushing for a major multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign to restore the building in need of repair.

“It’s discouraging because there are very few of the large synagogues left in Manhattan,” said Rabbi Yitshok Reisman, of the Lower East Side.

“There’s so little of old New York left,” said Lisa Keenan, also of the Lower East Side. “And it was a beautiful building.”

The remains of the synagogue sit surrounded by luxury condos, with more under construction.

“They should have secured the building so the kids couldn’t get in there,” said David Flaherty, who lives in the neighborhood. “But that doesn’t surprise me. Kids do stupid things.”