Man Charged with Multiple Arsons in N.Y. Community

The City of Tonawanda man who is accused of setting seven fires in the Twin Cities this week faced a judge Wednesday morning for his alleged crimes.

Christopher Syracuse, 26, of Hinds Street, was arraigned on 11 felony charges and four misdemeanor violations in North Tonawanda City Court. Syracuse, who appeared thin in his white jumpsuit, remained quiet for much of his appearance, sighing once as Judge William Lewis read the long list of charges.

Syracuse did begin to make a comment about the use of the word “intentionally” in the charges, but then Lewis advised him to remain silent until he retains an attorney. He’s set to be back in court today to fill out an application for a public defender. 

The alleged arsonist is being held without bail.

Syracuse, who police say acted alone, is accused of setting seven fires that damaged nine structures late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. The first call came in at 11:26 p.m. Monday for a fire in a Dumpster behind Quest Diagnostics in the plaza at 301 Meadow Drive. A vehicle was then set on fire on Zimmerman Street, damaging two homes and then garbage totes behind a Zimmerman business ignited.

Next, vehicle fires damaged a home on Ransom Street and Ganson Street, and at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, a large, raging fire began destroying a historic structure on Goundry Street that housed nine apartment units. 

Syracuse then made his way over to the City of Tonawanda, allegedly setting a vehicle fire on Enterprise Avenue that damaged two more homes. 

Many of the suspects’ neighbors didn’t wish to comment on the incident, but the woman Syracuse was living with said she was surprised by his actions. The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, has three children — ages 3, 4 and 5 — with Syracuse. 

“It’s a shock to everyone and I wish there was more that I could do for the victims. Right now, I’m trying to concentrate on my children and shelter them from the news. They don’t understand,” she said, noting that she and Syracuse weren’t dating and were living together for their children. “Chris was a good guy, he did his fatherly duties and he provided for his kids.”

She said that she wasn’t aware of any current mental health struggles Syracuse may have been going through.

“He never really talked to me, he kept everything bottled up. I wish he had talked to me,” she said. “Now my kids have to pay.” 

Authorities said that the release of the surveillance video from a business on Zimmerman — where totes were set on fire — eventually led police to Syracuse, a former NT resident. Syracuse was brought in to the station for questioning and later confessed to setting all of the fires, police said. 

NT Police Chief William Hall wouldn’t comment on the suspect’s possible motive, but he said that Syracuse did give a reason for setting the fires. Drugs and alcohol weren’t factors and authorities are also not aware of any mental health treatment in Syracuse’s past.  

Syracuse doesn’t have an extensive criminal record and had only been charged with petit larceny before this week. City of Tonawanda police said they aren’t familiar with him. 

City of Tonawanda Police Capt. Fred Foels said the department is still working with the district attorney to complete the necessary paperwork and press charges against Syracuse. He will likely be arraigned separately next week in Tonawanda. How the cases will proceed from there — and whether or not the two municipalities’ charges will be bundled — remains unclear. 

In North Tonawanda, Syracuse has been charged with: 

• Three counts of second-degree arson

• Four counts of third-degree arson

• One count of fourth-degree arson

• Two counts of fifth-degree arson

• Three counts of third-degree criminal mischief

• Two counts of fourth-degree criminal mischief

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©2014 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.)

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