Fires set in church, homes damaged in Allouez crime spree

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ALLOUEZ, Wis. (WBAY) - Investigators are praising the quick actions of local homeowners reporting information that led to a man they say is responsible for setting fires in a church and damaging two homes.

A broken window where investigators believe someone broke in to start a fire at St. Matthew Church. (WBAY photo)

An 18-year-old man from the Green Bay area has been booked on charges of burglary, arson and criminal damage to property after the string of seemingly random crimes in Allouez just hours apart.

"We have three separate events that at the time we did not know were connected," Brown County Sheriff's Capt. Jody Lemmens said.

At 1:42 a.m., the Green Bay Metro Fire Department was called to a fire alarm at St. Matthew Catholic Church and Father Allouez School, 2575 S. Webster Ave.

Crews found heavy smoke and a broken window on the north side of the chapel. A small fire was burning in the entry area. A Bible and paperwork had been set on fire, according to investigators.

The damage was limited to the window and the burned Bible and paperwork, according to the sheriff's office. A preliminary cost of damage was estimated at $15,000.

A K-9 was used to clear the building but officers found no one at the scene.

At about 3:40 a.m., a homeowner in the area of Riverside Drive and Iroquois called to report a suspicious person ringing his doorbell. The homeowner said the male was "soaking wet."

"We received an additional complaint from a resident on Riverside Drive who indicated that somebody had thrown a large piece of patio furniture, a chair, through his door and then was ringing the doorbell," says Capt. Lemmens. "It startled him, he got up, he observed what he described as a young male in his early 20s wearing black sweatpants, white socks, and flip flops, drenched in the rain."

The man told the homeowner to call the police.

"He opened the door not knowing what the person had wanted, and the subject just said, 'Call the cops,' and walked away," Lemmens says.

The suspect took off on the Fox River Trail. Officers found him and took him into custody without incident.

"Obviously, the quick action of the citizen or the resident at this point really helped us," Lemmens says. "Because of the location, and the timing, we were able to tie them together relatively quickly."

He was taken to jail on charges of burglary, arson and criminal damage to property. The man's name is being withheld until charges are filed by the Brown County District Attorney's Office.

The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay says authorities do not believe the suspect was specifically targeting a religious institution.

“I was so disappointed to learn early this morning there was a fire at St. Matthew’s Church in Allouez and that most likely it was caused by an arsonist,” said Bishop David L. Ricken. “Fr. Bob Kabat, the good parishioners of St. Matthew’s, and the troubled person who caused this are in my thoughts and prayers.”

The male is also suspected in other overnight crimes.

"We have three separate events that at the time we did not know were connected," says Capt. Lemmens. "At about 10:30 last night, on April 30, we had received a complaint from a resident on Beaumont Street in Allouez that somebody had thrown a wine bottle through one of the windows of their residence.

The Fire Marshal and deputies are investigating the church fire.

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PREVIOUS UPDATE:

Brown County Sheriff's Office deputies say they have detained someone for questioning in a suspected arson at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Allouez.

The believe the person who set the fire broke a window to get in.

Firefighter say Father Allouez Elementary was not damaged.

Green Bay Metro firefighters responded to a fire alarm at about 1:40 Wednesday morning at the church on Webster Avenue.

The first engine crew on scene smelled smoke, and called for more firefighters.

The fire was contained to a small area of the church, but there is smoke damage.

Firefighters say they found evidence that someone had broken in and started the fire. Brown County Sheriff's Office deputies searched the building but did not find a suspect.

The Sheriff's Office later confirmed to Action 2 News that they had a person in custody.

Wednesday mass is canceled at the church and Wednesday classes are canceled at Father Allouez Elementary.

The Green Bay Metro Fire Department says damage is estimated at $15,000.

The Fire Marshal and deputies are investigating the fire.