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EDITORIAL: Arson can never be tolerated

EDITORIAL: Arson can never be tolerated

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PHOTO: Arson

Surveillance photos at the Fredericksburg Police Department headquarters on Cowan Boulevard from an attempted arson in the early morning hours of May 31, 2020.

OF ALL THE many calamities that befall humans on this mortal coil, burning is one of the most frightening. And while taming fire is paradoxically one of mankind’s greatest achievements, it’s also a major challenge to keep that raw elemental power under control.

That’s why news that the Fredericksburg Police Department has finally identified the suspected arsonist who tried to torch police headquarters on Cowan Boulevard in late May comes as a welcome relief.

Surveillance cameras caught the suspect walking up to the Fallen Officers Memorial, pouring gasoline on the monument, and lighting it on fire before attempting to blow up the front doors of the police station with two Molotov cocktails, which providentially fizzled out before they could do any major damage. It was only due to ineptness on the would-be arsonist’s part that the entire station did not go up in flames.

Thanks to the Police Department’s methodical investigation, including the gathering of key physical evidence, the suspect was identified and charged. This is exactly why we have police departments in the first place.

As The Free Lance–Star’s Keith Epps reported, an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Fredericksburg Circuit Court identified the white 31-year-old suspect after the state Department of Forensic Science lifted a fingerprint from a gas can left at the scene in the early morning of May 31—just hours prior to the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests and later civil disturbances that engulfed the city.

The suspect—who reportedly was free on bond when the fires were set—is currently being held in the Rappahannock Regional Jail on unrelated charges. Hopefully this time, the authorities will keep him there until his trial.

The attempted firebombing of police headquarters just days after a police station in Minneapolis was torched by rioters in that city most certainly contributed to the Fredericksburg police’s defensive response to the demonstrations held later that day. Were the fires deliberately set to create animosity between police and the protesters?

Arson is such a serious and violent assault on the entire community that it simply cannot be tolerated in any form, and is particularly egregious when directed against a law enforcement agency. A court-ordered search warrant gave the Fredericksburg Police Department the legal authority to search the suspect’s cellphone for evidence that he may have been coordinating with others in the attempted fire-bombing.

If so, they should also be charged with aiding and abetting an arson attack—which is domestic terrorism any way you look at it.

There are many cases in the criminal justice system in which extenuating circumstances demand that clemency be extended to the offender, but this is not one of them.

If, after being granted the presumption of innocence and due process guaranteed to every American by the U.S. Constitution, the suspect is convicted by a jury of the heinous crime of arson, Fredericksburg prosecutors should seek the harshest punishment the law will allow.

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