Stratford teens charged with setting Shakespeare fire, suspected in other blazes
Two high school students from Stratford are accused of a string of arson fires around the state, including the blazes that destroyed the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford and the storage trailers at Silver Sands State Park.
The youths, one 18 and the other 17, are students at Bunnell High School and were charged Monday with setting the fire that destroyed the theater and a truck in Stratford. Police said they are continuing their investigation. The names of the two youths were not immediately released because they were juveniles at the time some of the fires were set.
At least one of the cases has been transferred to Superior Court in Bridgeport, though it was unclear Monday afternoon whether both suspects will be prosecuted as adults.
In a prepared statement, Stratford Police Capt. Frank Eannotti said the two juveniles were each charged with first-degree arson, first-degree burglary, second-degree criminal trespass, first-degree reckless endangerment, conspiracy to commit third-degree arson, third-degree burglary, and third-degree criminal mischief.
“After a lengthy investigation, the Stratford Police Department arrested two juveniles in connection with recent arson and burglary incidents within the town including the arson at Shakespeare Theater,” Eannotti said.
“The suspects were processed at the Stratford Police Department and turned over to court,” he said. “The investigation is ongoing, and more arrests are expected.”
Frank Riccio II, a lawyer representing one of the suspects, said: “This is still an ongoing investigation, therefore my comments will remain limited. We will comment further as the court processes continue.”
In all, police sources said the two teens are believed to have set six fires, including two in West Haven and one that heavily damaged the former Southbury Training School.
Five police agencies have been involved in the investigation, which are being coordinated by Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Howard Stein and Assistant State’s Attorney Alex Beck in Milford.
Both declined comment.
Police sources said the two teens confessed to setting the fires and that there may be two other students involved. They said the investigation is continuing.
Sources stressed that there is no evidence the teens set the fire that destroyed the buildings at Silver Sands - that separate fire has not been ruled arson - but sources said the teens might have taken advantage of that situation to set the trailers on fire.
Fires that police sources said are attributed to the teens:
Jan. 13: Fire that destroyed the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford
Jan. 15: Vacant building at the Southbury Training School damaged in fire
Feb. 8: Vacant house on Richards Place in West Haven destroyed by fire
Feb. 17: Former Bilco Co. in West Haven damaged by fire
March 9: Truck set afire at Good Earth Tree Care on Longbrook Avenue in Stratford
March 24: Fire damages construction trailers at Silver Sands State Park in Milford
In the early morning of Jan. 13, the American Shakespeare Theater, which once showcased the work of Katharine Hepburn, John Houseman and James Earl Jones, and in its heyday was the second-most popular tourist attraction in the state, burst into flame. The fire raged on through the early morning hours as firefighters from Stratford and Milford fought to get it under control. But in the end, all that was left was a blackened frame.
The state fire marshal’s office later determined that the fire had been set, police said.
On March 19, an early morning fire destroyed the nearly completed bathroom and concession buildings at Silver Sands in Milford. Days later police said an arson-fire heavily damaged the construction trailers near the original fire at the park.
Police confirmed that there is no evidence the fire at the Silver Sand Park buildings was arson, but that arson was the cause of the fire that damaged the construction trailers at the park.
A DEEP spokesman said Monday that the fire remains under investigation and no arrests have been made.
Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick said Monday that the town submitted a claim totaling roughly $1.7 million to its insurance company Friday in connection with the January blaze.
She said more details would be released Monday night at the Town Council’s monthly meeting.
“It saddens me that it’s youths,” Hoydick said of the arrests. “At least there’s a conclusion to this. It’s something that we know now instead of something that was surmised.”
Christopher Pia, a member of the Town Council who represents Stratford’s First District, where the theater is located, agreed.
“I’m happy as a town we finally have clarity on what happened that night and we can move forward now as a community,” he said.
Ed Goodrich organized a vigil in the aftermath of the fire attended by hundreds of people and now serves on a task force overseeing the conversation about what will happen at the property.
He said he was glad to see the investigation conclude.
“That’s a big breakthrough,” he said after learning of the arrests. “I’m very happy that they did that and congratulations to the investigators and fire department and police that tracked that down.”
Goodrich said he hopes the town will continue to look into what exactly happened.
“They spent a lot of money on making that building safe and secure,” he said. “The next investigation is to see exactly that they spent that money on, because that didn’t make the building safe or secure.”
Ethan Fry contributed to this story.