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Former Community Center Employee Charged With Arson



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After a three-month-long investigation into a fire set in an exterior bathroom at Newtown Community Center, police have arrested a former community center employee in connection with the incident.

George Ferris, 26, of Newtown, was arrested the charges of first-degree arson and first-degree criminal mischief on a warrant issued from Danbury Superior Court on May 18. Ferris was held on a $300,000 bail and transferred to Danbury Superior Court for arraignment.

Community Center Director Matt Ariniello the same day told The Newtown Bee that Ferris was a former employee of the community center. Ferris was not employed at the community center at the time of fire, which occurred on Sunday, February 27.

"I'm shocked and saddened to hear this," said Ariniello, noting that he was a "big believer in innocence until proven guilty."

Ariniello said that Ferris had been an "outstanding employee" who departed from the community center "on good terms" for other employment.

The fire caused an estimated $30,000 in damage to the building, Ariniello said. Ariniello told The Bee back in February that "the damage to the room was a total loss and the bathroom would have to be completely redone." There was additional smoke damage to the building.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal thanked the staff at the community center for noticing the smoke so quickly, the fire companies for their quick response, and Newtown Police Department for it's "thorough and professional investigation."

Rosenthal noted that while the fire only did property damage, the building was occupied at the time of the fire and things "could have been a lot worse."

"Thankfully it was just property damage and no one was hurt," said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal this week said he was "sad to hear it was a resident," but he was "glad they were able to apprehend" the suspect.

"This sends a strong message we will investigate things like this and we will seek justice," the first selectman said. "Now the individual will have to answer to a judge, and it's for the court to decide punishment."

According to Fire Marshal Richard Frampton, the fire was started at around 6:20 pm when "someone lit the trash on fire." Newtown Hook & Ladder Chief Chris Ward said the initial dispatch was for the odor of smoke at the community center, but while en route, they received a second call from the center's staff saying there was smoke in the building. The call was upgraded to a structure fire call which put all five companies on alert.

Hook & Ladder sent an engine and ladder truck and Sandy Hook Fire sent a ladder truck. There were 13 firefighters on scene while the other companies were held in quarters.

The actual fire took approximately one minute to put out; the fire had been set in a trash receptacle, said Ward. As others noted, there was extensive smoke damage to the bathroom, however.

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

A view of the damage to the exterior bathroom of the Community Center.
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