Four days after a fire caused the Yale Bookstore to close for several hours, the New Haven Police Department (NHPD) has identified a suspect.
On Monday, the bookstore called in Fire Investigators to investigate an arson fire. According to a statement issued by NHPD spokesman David Hartman, after reviewing the store’s security footage, the police found the suspect lighting several fires throughout the bookstore with a lighter. According to Hartman, the suspect who started the fire was a young, black male. The police do not know how many fires the suspect lit, Hartman said.
Spokespeople from the New Haven Fire Department and the Yale Bookstore could not be reached for comment on Thursday evening.
Surveillance tapes also revealed the suspect entering the bathroom, where a fire was discovered minutes after he left the building.
Since the time the statement was released, police have not yet received any more information about the suspect, Hartman said on Thursday afternoon.
The fire in the bathroom also triggered the bookstore’s sprinkler system, causing a flood in the basement, said one bookstore employee. The employee, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, added that as the building was evacuated, employees could see some of the books burning.
Following the bookstore’s reopening on Monday, a section in the lower level of the bookstore was blocked off by Yale Security officers. Early Thursday evening, the lower level of the bookstore was open for customers, but the children’s section remained blocked off and full of fans. Entrances to the basement, where textbooks are sold, were also blocked.
Before the bookstore first reopened, a photo that Sweyn Venderbush ’18 shared on the “Overheard At Yale” Facebook group showed a Yale Security guard blocking the store’s entrance. Venderbush had tried to go to the bookstore on Monday while it was closed due to the fire.
When Venderbush returned to the bookstore on Wednesday, employees said that due to the fire, the textbooks floor would be closed to customers, but that customer service representatives were permitted to access the floor to retrieve textbooks. Representatives told customers that the fire had not destroyed many of the bookstore’s products, he said.
“I asked [employees] how much had burned, and they said not very much at all,” Venderbush said.
NHPD is actively searching for the suspect and seeking tips from anyone who might know the suspect’s identity.
This particular type of crime is not common among New Haven youth, said Director of Youth Services Jason Bartlett, who added that most crimes involve burglaries or violence. Bartlett said that while he was not familiar with the suspect, there are a number of risk factors that lead youths to commit crimes.
“What I see in terms of disengaged youths is you have kids who fall behind early on in their academics and school becomes a pressure,” Bartlett said. “The classic example for teenagers is the wanting to associate with fellow peers.”
Over the past year, New Haven City Hall has teamed with other organizations to start programs like Youth Stat, which is aimed at targeting youths in the community who are at risk for committing crimes.
The city hopes to keep youths away from criminal activity by keeping them active in the community, Director of Communications for Mayor Toni Harp Laurence Grotheer said.
While programs like Youth Stat — launched in April — identify students at risk for violent activity through official and school records, other efforts like Youth@Work provide employment opportunities for young people throughout the year.
“Sometimes it’s just a question of getting [teenagers] back into school or getting them involved in one of these programs,” Grotheer said.
The Yale Bookstore is located on 77 Broadway.