Three days after an arsonist started a series of small fires in the Yale Bookstore last Monday, the police made an arrest.
On Thursday, the New Haven Police Department released a description of the suspect based on surveillance videos in the bookstore. Hours later, police arrested the suspect — a 14 year-old boy from New Haven — after his foster parent recognized him while watching WFSB news on Thursday evening and contacted the authorities. Police charged the suspect with arson in the third degree, reckless endangerment in the first degree and criminal mischief in the first degree. Police are not releasing further information about the suspects identity or where he was arrested because he is a juvenile, said NHPD spokesperson David Hartman.
The search for the suspect began after the fire department was called in to investigate an arson fire on Monday. After reviewing the bookstore’s surveillance footage, authorities found that the suspect used a lighter to start several small fires around the building. The security tapes also suggested that the suspect started a fire in the bathroom.
Following the Yale Police response to the fire alarm, the New Haven Fire Department arrived on site and requested the Arson Unit, University spokesperson Tom Conroy said in an email. The NHPD and fire department handled the subsequent arrest, he added.
Because the investigation is ongoing, police cannot disclose how many fires the suspect lit, Hartman said on Friday.
As of Sunday evening, spokespeople from the New Haven Fire Department and the Yale Bookstore could not be reached for comment.
The Yale Bookstore was evacuated and temporarily closed last Monday when the fires were first discovered. As of Sunday evening, access to bookstore’s basement and lower level bathrooms remains restricted. However, all but a small portion of the children’s section has been opened and the fans have been removed.
As the building was evacuated on Monday, employees could see some books burning, said one bookstore employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. According to the employee, fire was not the only source of damage — the fires also triggered the sprinkler system, which led to flooding in the basement.
Following the bookstore’s re-opening on Monday, the lower level and basement of the bookstore were closed off to customers and blocked by security officers. Customers could access the lower level on Thursday evening, but the children’s section remained blocked and full of fans. The bathroom doors on the lower level were also locked. Many students were not aware that the bookstore was closed on Monday. Others were made aware by a photo that Sweyn Venderbush ’18 shared on the “Overheard At Yale” Facebook group. The photo 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 fires.
When Venderbush returned to the bookstore on Wednesday, access to the basement was still restricted to customers, but customer service representatives were available to access the floor and retrieve textbooks. Representatives told customers that the fire had not caused significant damage to the bookstore’s products, he said.
Arson is not a crime common among New Haven youth, said Director of Youth Services Jason Bartlett. Crimes committed by young people more often involve burglaries or violence, he added.
Located on 77 Broadway, the Yale Bookstore is the largest bookstore between New York City and Boston.