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UPDATED: Teen arrested in connection with arson at Point Defiance’s pagoda

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on April 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm with 44 Comments »
April 25, 2011 3:20 pm

Tacoma police have arrested a 15-year-old boy on suspicion of burglarizing the historic pagoda structure at Point Defiance Park and later setting it on fire.

Pierce County prosecutors have charged the Tacoma teen with first-degree arson for the April 15 fire at the pagoda, second-degree burglary and second-degree malicious mischief for a break-in April 6 and unlawful possession of an incendiary device.

The teen made his first court appearance this afternoon and was ordered held in secure detention at Remann Hall juvenile court until his next court date in May. His lawyer entered not guilty pleas to all charges on the teen’s behalf.

Ruston police stopped the teen early Wednesday as he rode his bicycle toward the park, Tacoma police spokesman Mark Fulghum said.

The bicycle was not illuminated. The officer knew about the previous fires and, after following the boy for several blocks, honked his horn to stop the teen, charging documents state.

The officer found a one-gallon plastic can full of gasoline in his backpack and a box of wooden matches in one of his pockets. When asked why he thought he was stopped, the teen responded, “yes, because of the fires.” He told police he was going to the boat house down at the marina, charging documents state.

“When asked where his parents thought he was, the respondent stated that he snuck out, so they would think he was at home in bed,” charging documents state.

A Tacoma police detective obtained a search warrant for the boys’ phone and found several text messages sent from the phone and talking about the fires in the park.

“Hey … I broke into a building,” said one text sent April 6 at 12:51 a.m.

“Hey … we should start a fire in that 1 building I told u about,” said another text sent April 14 at 11:24 p.m.

On the day of the pagoda fire, one text stated, “Yes I crashed someone’s wedding 2.”

The teen did not make a statement to police after his arrest.

Flames and smoke heavily damaged the iconic pagoda, the centerpiece of Point Defiance Park’s Japanese garden, on April 15. A Metro Parks Tacoma garbage worker spotted the smoke during the early hours and called Tacoma firefighters. Smoke had filled the structure’s main floor by the time fire crews arrived at the park.

The fire scorched the building’s wood beams. Several of the roof’s original clay tiles were damaged when firefighters pried them off to get at the fire’s remaining spots in the roof.

Investigators had been investigating the pagoda fire as an arson and investigating whether it was tied to an April 6 break-in of the building’s basement area.

In both cases, someone got into the building through a louvered window on the west side of the building, charging documents state. During the April 6 break-in, several of the window panes had been removed and smashed. During the April 15 fire, investigators found that six of the glass panels had been removed and placed on the ground. The detective “noted that the panels did not have any smoke damage, indicating they had been removed prior to the fire,” charging documents state.

They also were looking into whether it was connected to other smaller fires set in the park. Several garbage cans were set on fire April 11 at Owen Beach. Toilet paper had been lit and thrown into a track can inside the men’s bathroom near the Rustic Picnic area on April 18.

Fulghum said Monday that detectives are looking at whether the teen is connected to the other, smaller fires.

The teen has no prior history with the Tacoma police or Ruston police departments, Fulghum said. He’s homeschooled.

Metro Parks Tacoma officials have been working to figure out how much it will cost and how long it will take to restore the nearly 100-year-old building, which is insured. Those estimates are not expected for up to two months.

Leave a comment Comments → 44
  1. happy ending! thank goodness no amber alerts were needed.

  2. frogfaced says:

    I hope the boy gets the help he needs and has the finances to pay the parks back for the damage.

  3. fanciladi says:

    If guilty, what a sad way to get one’s thrills…destroying other’s property! If guilty, maybe this may stop a further distructive life…I hope!

  4. JustinD2515 says:

    Great. He’ll be tried as a juvenile and walk away with a slap on the wrist.

  5. surveyor1 says:

    I hope his parents are embarrassed. Nice piece of work you raised.

  6. your name says:

    his parents probabley havent given him much attention, thats why hes doing these things ..

  7. Alison7613 says:

    Second degree malicious mischief? I thought the value of the damage would make it FIRST degree. I am very confused and calling the prosecutor’s office to inquire.

  8. willcole says:

    Yep, Most likely a semi good kid who wants a name for him self so as to look good to one of his two friends. Cain him 10 times and send him home. He would then have something to show off. Its a lot cheaper for him to tip the Cainer then to pay more to house him. But then the kiddy jail employees might be lonely…..

  9. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE…hold his parents financially liable for the damages, and just throw him in a cell and forget about him. Time to send teenagers and their parents a message…either be a productive member of society, or we will take you out of society. Pretty simple…

  10. His parents will sue for police entrapment. He’s “a good kid”.

  11. Alison7613 says:

    I understand the malicious mischief charge is based on the break-in, not the arson. However, what was the cost of the damage of the break-in and how does this office determine it is malicious mischief 2 versus 1?

  12. DeschutesMan says:

    A real problem for the parents. The State will let him go after a few years and then watch out if he has not changed

  13. wabubba67 says:

    Obviously, this is another child that the public education system and teachers have let down. Blame us for his misbehavior (I bet he has low MSP scores, too). Parents? Nah.

  14. fivecardstud says:

    That little punk. His mom and Dad are the ones that will end up paying the bill for that. He’s lucky he’s not my child.

  15. The pagoda was very dear to me and when I think about the fire it makes me upset. I hope that little brat gets what he deserves and not just a slap on the wrist. He was obviously on his way to start a fire in the Boat House. What a punk.

  16. Dumb arse is lucky he didn’t kill anybody…idiot.

  17. spitfire4 says:

    Glad they found who did it. What is wrong with these teens and people in general lately. Unfortunatley because he is a minor, his parents will have to foot the bill. I don’t really think that’s fair. It should be something they have to start paying once there 18 or have a job and then start garnishing there pay until it’s payed off. I don’t care what anyone’s opinion is about raising kids, but you can raise them with the best of everything and kids can turn out rotten or still do whatever they want. Kids are not puppets and we as parents can’t be on them 24/7 just to make sure there making the right choices. Hopefully this kid will get the help he needs and learn and grow from this stupid crap he has been doing. There could be underlying issues with him too. That’s not defending him, but I havea couple of kids and have worked with ADHD kids and sometimes they get bored and impulsive and don’t think about concequences until after they have done something stupid. And no one can go judging anyone or anything….it’s not our place. “He who has not sinned..cast the first stone”

  18. bullman120 says:

    hey check his fingers for black spray paint.

  19. the3rdpigshouse says:

    Waive the “juvenile” label and put the little maggot away for about 15 years!!!

  20. jamtac0ma says:

    He should be required to serve 10 years of community service at the Pagoda cleaning the entire place after each wedding and made to pull weeds in the gardens. If the laws had teeth then he would have to spend the next decade performing community service. Also, he can pick up raccoon poo on 5 mile drive when it is slow at the Pagoda.

  21. GARanger says:

    I hope, after the “Officials” get through calculating for, and planning for the restoration, that the final cost is reasonable. It seems that when a job like this is done using public money, the cost is a lot higher than it would be if the “officials and planners” were paying out of their own pockets.
    And also imagine the young man responsible for this destruction, actually doing much of the hard labor required to put the pagoda back in shape. How inhuman would that be.

  22. Please don’t tell me that this kid, “has nothing else to do”…he needs to be tried as an adult and hung out to dry in Jail! His parents need to be held accountable, as this is most likely not his first offense!

    Oh that’s right, we are letting everybody out of jail now, because we can’t afford to house them! Okay everyone…everyone takes shifts sleeping!

  23. steilacoomtaxpayer says:

    Yes, try him as an adult and give long term sentencing. He is going to be a bad apple for life. Homeschooled and thus no one noticed adjustment problems, mom’s are always sugar coating their sons’ behaviors. The parents don’t have to pay a dime.

  24. BlaineCGarver says:

    He should personally pay back every cent.

  25. BlaineCGarver says:

    My daughter was married there….it breaks my heart.

  26. C’mon. It’s property. He’s more important. A lot of people did dumb crimes as a teen. Hold him responsible but don’t hate. He needs something meaningful and constructive to get involved in after he fulfills whatever the court orders.

    It’s dumb to bring race into this or to blame his parents without knowing anything about them.

  27. crblanusa says:

    I agree with you cloud!! If you do not live in this boys home you do not know!! Also, do not try him as an adult but do be strong with him!! He needs to learn consequences but he does still have time to make a better life for himself!!

  28. Drek2305 says:

    I don’t know why everyone is surprised. I can’t think of a single place where a child can learn respect for other people’s property – the message being sent out through the entertainment media is “me first.” Looks like this child learned his lessons well.

  29. ltkeffer says:

    Try him as an adult would be great, however, this kid doesn’t appear to have a record…. yet.
    Too bad the ‘homeschool’ crowd will try to defend him too.

    Bottom line, he has been caught, he will be tried, albeit likely as a juvenile and will be out of jail when he turns 18. However, he and his parents will hopefully still be paying the damages off, unless they have enough insurance to cover it…….

  30. smolderc says:

    I don’t know how some of you people can determine what kind of parents this kid has from a news paper article.Sometimes no matter how vigilant a parent is the kid can get in trouble They thought he was safely in bed asleep.

  31. nwcolorist says:

    Credit goes to the policeman for being observant (and a little lucky)

    The boy must have no moral compass.

  32. tacomajoe says:

    “Second degree malicious mischief? I thought the value of the damage would make it FIRST degree. I am very confused and calling the prosecutor’s office to inquire.”

    Why interfere with the prosecutors’ jobs? Do they go to McDonald’s and knock your burgers off the grill?

  33. JODILUDWIG says:


    wabubba67 – he was home schooled has nothing to do with the educational system. Everything to do with his upbringing. I am not a teacher but I am a parent and I will always say it is the parent…never the school system. Raise them right and they will do right. Starts and ends there!

    wabubba67 says:
    April 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Obviously, this is another child that the public education system and teachers have let down. Blame us for his misbehavior (I bet he has low MSP scores, too). Parents? Nah.

  34. Home schooling is supposed to keep kids out of trouble by separating them from negative influences. It SURE DIDN’T work in this case.

  35. pungentsound says:

    Looks like Mom & Dad have to get a second jobs to pay back the people of Tacoma seeings as they blew their first one, raising a good kid.

  36. crusader says:

    tall sturdy fir. short length of rope. problem solved.

  37. Alison7613 says:

    Tacomajoe, oh yes. Let’s let public officials run around unregulated and let them say, crash the bank system again. You are an irresponsible citizen.

    McDonald’s? Why make the assumption I work there? Furthermore, what is the shame in flipping burgers AND being a responsible informed person and voter?

    Joe, you get my big boo of the day. Shame on you for slamming me and all service workers who I bet you exploit daily.

  38. thebestofthebest says:

    With a Gallon of Gas and a Box of Matches…..

    One could start allot of fires…..

    Great Job…. Ruston Police !

    The Pride of the Force !

    Good, old-fashioned, police-work bagged this perp.

  39. A service job is a good idea: give him minimum wage job tending to Point Defiance for the next 10 years.

    Teach him what hard work and owing a public debt really means.

  40. Rowdy_Rob says:

    Forget minimum wage job…make his payback working in a PRISON job making below minimum wage until his debt is paid off, plus interest.

    Too bad prosecutors don’t have the b@!!$ to go after him as an adult…

  41. What to value, 101

  42. wabubba67 says:
    April 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm
    Obviously, this is another child that the public education system and teachers have let down. Blame us for his misbehavior (I bet he has low MSP scores, too). Parents? Nah.

    The teen has no prior history with the Tacoma police or Ruston police departments, Fulghum said. He’s homeschooled.

    Read more:

    So much for reading skills

  43. wabubba67 says:

    KARDNOS–Granted, when I skimmed the article, I missed the homeschooled part. However, parents often begin to homeschool because they “distrust” or have had a “bad experience” in the public education system. As a public school teacher, the majority of kids that have opted out for homeschooling tend to have more than a few social issues….these issues frequently do not get better with time away from peers. My original comment was also intended to be sarcastic.

  44. gkim1985 says:

    Many of these comments focus on the accused and his parents. I think it’s safe to say that his moral compass is a little off.
    What leaves me puzzled is that no one is bringing up the point that another person RECEIVED the same text messages that the police found. There was ample time for that person to either a. speak to authorities, or b. speak to their parents (assuming that person was a minor) and the fire most likely would have been prevented.

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