The solemn, tired faces at Tuesday’s news conference at Barre City Hall spoke volumes about the tensions local and state officials are feeling over the serial arsonist who appears to be targeting vacant buildings around the city.
The plea made by police and fire investigators, as well as certain leaders, was clear: We need to be vigilant in catching whoever is responsible before a firefighter or citizen is hurt — or killed.
The nightmare scenario is that this high-stakes game of cat and mouse will not only continue but escalate. The damage to the five buildings hit by fires considered suspicious is believed to have exceeded $1 million. But this is likely not about damage, per se. The psychology behind arson is complicated, and the thrill for the arsonist often is associated with creating fire, fear and headlines. At the moment, all eyes are on Barre because of this unsettling situation, which has everyone more than nervous.
While investigators are rounding up “usual suspects” — local convicted firebugs and other people of interest, all of whom now require alibis — city leaders are asking residents to be on the lookout for any suspicious behavior, even if it seems as insignificant as an out-of-place vehicle or an unusual face in the neighborhood.
Public Safety Chief Tim Bombardier, a former state police officer and former fire investigator himself, asked the public to think hard about the times, locations and circumstances behind the arson fires since June 23. He said investigators believe the fires are linked (although to preserve the crux of the investigation he would not say how), and probably are being done by the same perpetrator(s). But it may take the recollection of an everyday citizen — perhaps someone walking a dog late at night, glancing out a window upon hearing a noise, or driving by — who can offer that crucial clue or tip that will help catch those responsible.
Unless the arsonist is caught in the act, an arrest will likely come down to citizens citywide being good neighbors: Report any suspicious activity; call the arson tip line (800-32-ARSON) or Barre City Police Department at 476-6613; and, most importantly, be aware — but not paranoid.
Let local and state police do their jobs. Relay information; do not try to take action yourself.
Reward money is being offered as incentive — a pot that seems to be growing with each day that the arsonist is on the loose. That may be what greases the skids for the information to start coming out. As Mayor Thomas Lauzon said during the news conference, “Somebody knows something.”
Perhaps an arrest will come down to bragging or posts on social media, or an overheard conversation. The person or people responsible will slip up, police say. Ego could get the best of them.
It is imperative, as conscientious citizens, that we keep an eye on one another during this trying time. While public safety officials have increased patrols, gone undercover and been monitoring potential target buildings around the city, it is up to each of us to be the eyes and ears of our community’s overall safety, now and always.
We certainly do not want a tragedy to be the tipping point that spurs us into action. But we cannot allow ourselves to continue living in fear of the whims of someone who has no regard for property, safety or our community.
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