Church Blaze Now Cold Case
Thu, 04/14/2022 - 10:43am admin
Howell County News staff
Over six months have passed since an act of arson at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and no charges have been filed. Willow Springs Police Department identifed a person of interest early on, but have yet to file formal charges against the individual.
On September 20, 2021, Howell County News reported a trailer house, used an an office by the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Willow Springs, burned to the ground. Within a day, the fire's origin was suspected to be arson and investigators announced the burglary of the church's Sunday collection. The Howell County Sheriffs Office later confirmed there is reason to believe that an individual tied to a barn fire in Pomona the same night is the suspect in both crimes.
As of Friday, there was still insufficient evidence to prosecute.
Assistant Police Chief Wes Ellison said on Thursday that his department is no longer investigating the matter.
"The primary investigator now works for the State Fire Marshall," Ellison explained. "A lot of times, we take the initial report and then turn it over to them anyway."
During a phone interview with Howell County News, the State Fire Marshall's Public Information Officer Michael O'Connell, would only say, "The criminal investigation is on-going." O'Connell declined to get into specifics or name any suspects or persons of interest.
Lieutenant Torey Thompson with the HCSO said the investigation from their end had also come to a bit of a standstill. "We are pretty much hands off," Sgt. Thompson said during a Thursday phone interview. "At this point, it has been turned over to the State Fire Marshall, and we may never have enough evidence."
Lt. Thompson went on to express frustration with the possibility that there may never be enough evidence to proceed with prosecution, due to the fact that "arson cases are just difficult to prosecute or prove. A lot of times, it's just not possible to prove a fire was set intentionally, and even if it was, prosecution of any individual would be extremely difficult," Thompson explained. While reiterating that probable cause is a far cry from absolute certainty he said, "We would really need better evidence, such as a confession, or at least an eyewitness."