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Teen Accused of Setting Synagogue Fire Released Into Parental Custody

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Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, May 17, 2017.
Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, May 17, 2017.

Here’s the latest on the investigation into the destructive fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol.

A 14-year-old boy who was arrested Tuesday evening in connection with the synagogue fire was released into parental custody after an initial court appearance yesterday. As the New York Times reported, he appeared in Family Court and the case was referred to the city’s Law Department. The teen, whose name is being withheld because he’s being prosecuted as a juvenile, lives about a half mile from the synagogue at 60 Norfolk St. The teen is due back in court May 31, when prosecutors will be required to spell out the charges they plan to pursue against him. More from the Times:

The police took the teenager into custody after interviewing his two companions, who were released. He was brought on Tuesday night to the 7th Precinct station, where Commissioner James P. O’Neill happened to be attending a community council meeting. The boy declined to talk to investigators and requested a lawyer, the police said. The police have not determined a motive or uncovered any indication of bias.

The Lo-Down first reported the arrest yesterday morning, after we witnessed the boy being escorted by cops into the precinct the previous evening. Eyewitnesses saw three teens running from the synagogue shortly after the fire erupted Sunday evening. Security camera tape was used by cops to identify the teens.

On Wednesday, The New York Post identified the teen, reporting:

David Diaz was with other teens inside the abandoned Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue when he allegedly set a curtain on fire Sunday night, according to the sources. The flaming curtain fell onto some pews, causing the fire to quickly spread through the building, which was destroyed. Several teens were caught on surveillance video fleeing the scene — and a female friend of the alleged arsonist gave him up to cops after they spotted her going to school on Tuesday… Diaz is also responsible for a smaller blaze that broke out at the synagogue on May 7, according to law-enforcement sources.

bhh side view 5-17

In the past day, construction fencing went up around the 167-year-old building. Fire investigators have not been able to conduct a search of the main floor of the synagogue due to stability concerns. Safety supports will be put in place before they enter the building. “Astonishingly the synagogue’s towers remained standing,” noted the Times, giving preservationists some hope that part of the the city landmark could be salvaged.

This morning, a Department of Buildings spokesman said the agency’s investigation into the structural stability of the building is still ongoing.

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