4 juveniles arrested in St. Leo arson

Archbishop Nelson Perez delivers the homily at a Mass to celebrate St. Leo the Great Church after it was destroyed by a fire.

Following a months long investigation aided by tips from the public, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Arson and Explosives Task Force identified and arrested four juveniles alleged to be responsible for starting a fire that destroyed the historic St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, 6658 Keystone St. (at Unruh Avenue) on Mother’s Day, May 9.

No one was injured in the two-alarm blaze that destroyed the 137-year-old structure, which had been decommissioned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and later sold and slated for redevelopment by a private owner. The task force — which consists of ATF agents, Philadelphia Police Department detectives and Philadelphia Fire Marshal’s Office investigators – led the criminal investigation. As a result of an anonymous tip, investigators were able to identify and arrest the juveniles, who are accused of unlawfully entering the church property and setting the blaze that destroyed the church.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has charged two individuals with arson, conspiracy and burglary. The other two individuals are charged with burglary and conspiracy. The defendants are not being named due to their status as juveniles at the time of offense.

“The crimes alleged here harmed the Tacony community. Philadelphia’s historic structures are beloved for so much more than their beauty; in this case, even though the church was being redeveloped for private use, St. Leo was revered for its history of baptisms, weddings, memorials and other milestone life events held by our neighbors in this region over generations,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “Fortunately, there were no injuries or loss of life as a result of this destructive fire. I want to thank the ATF Arson and Explosives Task Force for resolving this investigation, and for working with my office to help ensure these youths are fairly and appropriately held accountable.”

St. Leo was open from 1884 to 2014, remaining a worship site until 2019. The archdiocese sold it to a real estate company earlier this year. ••