Someone has a God problem – or at least an issue or two with churches, based on a string of arsons that have been blazing around town for the past two months.

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Arson is one of the most cowardly crimes. It’s tough to be rough and tough when a guy’s claim to fame is setting something aflame and then running away.

We say “guy” because Fire Focus tells us that 80 percent of arsonists are men. These dudes often come from impoverished and dysfunctional families and have a history of behavioral problems.

No fewer than five churches have set aflame since April. The most recent was June 1 at the Coronado Baptist Church around 10:30 a.m. – in broad daylight. The church sits at 2609 N. Park Ave, between Glenn and Grant roads, in the middle of town.

Gabriel J. Villaescusa, 30, was arrested for the June 1 fire, according to an announcement from the Tucson Police Department. The alleged firebug faces charges of arson of an occupied structure, criminal damage, and six counts of endangerment. All are felonies.

The other four arsons were:

* Flowing Wells Baptist Church 4314 N. Romero Rd. at 11:57 p.m. April 9
* Alliance Bible Church, 1301 W. Wetmore Rd. at 11:26 p.m. April 26
* Northwest Community Friends Church, 5950 N. La Canada at 12:18 a.m. April 30
* Catalina Lutheran Church, 15855 N. Twin Lakes at 9:42 p.m. May 10


Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the string of church fires as possible hate crimes.

As is the American way, all folks are innocent until proven guilty. We’re not saying Villaescusa is responsible for the latest arson – or all five of them – until a court says so.

But we do know that arsonists often have a history of other criminal behavior and, if the behavior is coupled with bed wetting and animal cruelty, is a prime indicator that the criminal could move on to bigger and better crimes – like murder.

Villaescusa’s record contains no fewer than 11 past criminal infractions, according to Pima County Justice Court records.

They include criminal damage, theft, three incidents of misconduct involving weapons, two incidents of false reporting to law enforcement and two incidents of drinking alcohol a mere three months prior to his 21st birthday. He was busted for drinking twice in October 2000. He turned 21 in December of that year.

To be fair, the theft charge and one false reporting charge were dismissed. He pleaded guilty to a host of others. And now he has some fine arson charges to deal with.

Perhaps little boys don’t sit around thinking they want to grow up to be arsonists, but fire starting can begin at an early age.

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Fire Setter Profiles

Curious fire setter: Usually young kid who throws matches at the family cat or plays with lighters and curtains.

Troubled fire setters: Usually youngish kid who sets fires as a cry for help or attention.

Delinquent fire setter: Generally an adolescent who is impulsive, irresponsible, has poor social skills and crappy judgment who likes to oppose authority. Often riddled with behavioral problems and bad grades.

Strategic fire setters: Usually a teen with a rap sheet and penchant for delinquent behavior who has no guilt whatsoever about the fire and laughs in the face of the consequences.

Pathological fire setter: Usually a loner who has long been fascinated with fire, likely a victim of abuse and a history of neurological or medical issues. These are rare birds.

Pyromaniacs: Please do not mix up the ho-hum arsonist with the exciting pyromaniac, someone who usually has little or no control over his impulse to burn things down.

Then there is the motivation. Folks set fires to vandalize, for revenge or for the thrill of it all. Some arsonists actually get a sexual rush after setting things aflame.

And here comes a peek at the serial arsonist:

The serial arsonist is involved in three or more separate fire setting episodes with a characteristic emotional cooling off period between fires. This period may last days weeks or even years.

Serial arson is the most serious type of arson due to apparent random selection of victims and unpredictable gaps between incidents.

Furthermore a serial arson is not a separate or distinct motive for fire setting it is a pattern of fire setting frequently encountered in revenge, excitement or extremist motivated arson

Serial arsonists often create a climate of fear in entire communities community leaders tend to compound the problem by pressuring law enforcement agencies to identify and quickly apprehend the fire setter often the arsonist evades apprehension for months while investigators become increasing frustrated by the lack of experience in handling these baffling cases

This type of arson usually involves a disorganized crime scene physical evidence is often present. The offender frequently uses available materials found at the scene and carries the source of ignition with them usually a long offender is involved.

He will tend to be minimally educated and an underachiever. He generally has poor interpersonal relationships and is socially inadequate. Often he is unemployed and if he has an employment history it is erratic and involves little or no skill.

Serial arsonists often have a history of substance abuse and a history of police contact/arrests for minor nuisance offenses.

The offender walks to the scene of the fire and generally lives within one mile of the crime scene He is very likely familiar with the crime scene and could justify his presence in the area.

It is important to analyze the cluster centers of fire activity. The tighter the cluster the closer to the area of significance to the offender.

Source: Winnipeg Police Service and Crime Classification Manual

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski

Fire file photo Ryn Gargulinski



What do you think?

Have you ever hated anything enough to burn it down?

Do you know any arsonists?

Have you ever burned a flag? Styrofoam?

Someone in effigy? Please explain.