In this undated photo released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Roger Leon Barlow Jr., 19, is seen. Barlow was charged Thursday Feb. 19, 2009, with setting at least seven fires in an arson-plagued steel town, Coatesville, Pa, including a block-long blaze that displaced dozens of people in January. (AP Photo/ATF)
COATESVILLE, Pa. - A 19-year-old described as a pyromaniac was charged yesterday with setting nine fires in an arson-plagued steel town, including a block-long blaze that displaced dozens of people last month.
Roger L. Barlow, Jr., an automotive technical student from nearby Downingtown, was charged with arson, aggravated assault, and related counts. He was arraigned, and bail was set at $9 million.
The teen told investigators Wednesday that he set nine fires since Jan. 2, according to a police affidavit.
One of them roared through 15 row homes on a single block, displacing about 50 residents and causing an estimated $1.2 million in damage.
Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll, who lives in Coatesville, said he does not believe the fires were gang-related, hate crimes, or targeted at specific individuals. Mr. Carroll called Mr. Barlow a pyromaniac, but declined to disclose evidence to support it, other than to say that Mr. Barlow enjoyed watching fires.
Coatesville, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, has tallied 18 arsons this year and 26 last year, one of them fatal. In December, authorities arrested three people believed to have been responsible for some of the arsons, including the early December blaze that killed an 83-year-old woman.
The fires, however, continued and many of the city's approximately 11,000 residents said they were afraid to go to bed at night because of the arsons.
Yesterday, several residents interrupted a City Hall news conference about the arrest with applause. City Councilman Kurt Schenk said he was elated.
"It's just evil - pure evil - as far as I can see, anybody who would want to hurt somebody like that," Mr. Schenk said.
Mr. Barlow, a high school graduate, lives with his parents. His father, Roger, declined to comment when reached by telephone yesterday afternoon.
With a suspect under arrest, Mr. Carroll said residents should be able to sleep easier, "although I'm not convinced this is the only person involved."
Mr. Carroll said Mr. Barlow set his last fire on Feb. 3, but the last identified arson in the area was Feb. 6 at a trailer home in nearby East Fallowfield Township.
Besides the 18 fires in Coatesville this year, there have been at least five outside the city limits.