MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Stearns County officials say they have solved the case involving a historic Melrose church being intentionally set on fire.

On the afternoon of March 11, 2016, a deacon returning from errands first saw the flames at the 120-year-old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Melrose.

It took fire crews several hours to get the fire, which appeared to have started on the building’s west side, under control. In total, the church sustained about $5 million in damage, including water damage and broken windows.

A wood alter made in Germany – installed prior to the church’s dedication in 1899 – was destroyed.

The fire was later determined to be arson.

For over 2 years, the investigation tried identifying a suspect. Numerous people were re-interviewed and potential evidence re-examined.

Related: Historic Church, Damaged By Arson, Opens Doors To Public

Then, on June 5, 2018, investigators conducted an interview of a juvenile. During the course of that interview, the juvenile confessed to starting the fire at the church.

The juvenile has been charged with first-degree arson. He or she was allegedly 13 years old at the time of the offense.

“Any unsolved crime produces a sense of unease in communities,” Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson said. “I know the arson of the church has left an indelible mark on the entire area. In solving the case, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office was pleased to take the fine investigative work of the Melrose Police Department, the Minnesota State Fire Marshal and Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives to a successful conclusion. It is our hope that this will be a positive step in putting the community at ease along with healing for the congregation of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.”

The juvenile has not been identified due to his or her age. Juvenile Court proceedings are by law confidential due to the juvenile’s age.


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