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14-Year-Old Arrested in Connection With Fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue (Updated)

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Photo by Richard Brennan.
Photo by Richard Brennan.

First on The Lo-Down: A teenager faces arson charges this morning in connection with the devastating fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the Norfolk Street synagogue.

The 14-year-old boy was taken into custody last night just hours after NYPD officials said they were investigating the blaze as arson. Witnesses said three young people were seen in the vicinity of the building. Cops had been reviewing security camera tape that also showed the possible teenage suspects fleeing the scene.

The synagogue, one of the neighborhood’s most important historic sites, was destroyed Sunday evening. Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum told us that kids have been going in an out of the building for weeks (the synagogue has been vacant since 2007 but a restoration plan was in the works).

Police are not releasing the name of the suspect since he is a juvenile, but we’re told he lives in the neighborhood.

One other note. The teen was brought into the 7th Precinct last night as the monthly community council meeting was underway. He was taken to a room on the second floor for questioning. Police Commissioner James O’Neill was in attendance at the meeting.

UPDATE 9:24 a.m. A few more details now from the New York Post: The teen was arrested at his home, “which is not far from the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue.” The boy has been charged with third degree felony arson as a juvenile. The other teens are apparently claiming they did not participate in setting the fire:

Cops busted him after speaking to one or more of his friends who were present at the time the fire was set, and implicated him as the person who started the blaze, police sources said. The people who provided that information told cops that their friend acted alone — even though they accompanied the suspect into the abandoned temple, sources said. The teen will likely be arraigned at Manhattan Family Court later Wednesday.

UPDATE 9:57 a.m. More from Channel 7:

Detectives have names of (the suspect’s) two friends, also spotted on surveillance video, fleeing the scene. Police said they are seeking to question them also… Surveillance video recovered from a nearby camera showed three young people running from the general area. Although the fire occurred in what was once a house of worship, it was not investigated as a bias crime.

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