GRANDE RONDE -- The Polk County Sheriff's Office announced the arrest of two young males on charges of arson for two fires in Grand Ronde last week.
Arrested were Larry Wayne Whitley, 18, of Grand Ronde, and a 14-year-old juvenile resident of Willamina.
Sheriff Bob Wolfe said both are charged with first-degree arson and first-degree conspiracy to committ arson. Whitley was jailed in Polk County; the 14-year-old was lodged in the Yamhill County juvenile facility.
The first fire, at Grand Ronde Elementary School, occurred at 3:55 a.m. on July 2. It did minor damage and was discovered after a fire alarm in the school sounded.
A July 3 fire at the Church of the Nazarene, across the street from Grand Ronde Elementary School, was reported by a passerby at approximately 4 a.m. The fire caused major damage to the church.
The sheriff said both fires were similar in nature and that both buildings had graffiti spray-painted on them, including anarchist slogans, swastikas and religious slurs.
A joint force investigated, with the Oregon State Police Arson Team, the ATF Bureau and the FBI assisting the sheriff's office.
In the school fire, a Molotov cocktail (a gasoline-filled bottle with an ignited cloth fuse) was thrown through a window. The resulting fire burned out after causing minimal damage.
The church fire was much more extensive. The wood-frame building with cedar siding, built in the 1950s, was left in ruins. It took firefighters several hours to extinguish the blaze.
The joint investigating team, with help provided by local citizens, gave the sheriff's office a lead on Whitley. A search warrant was served, and evidence related to the fires was found at his residence, according to the sheriff's report. Subsequent information led to the 14-year-old suspect.
Investigators are working to discover the motive for the crimes.
The Nazarene church has a community building as an annex, and it was not damaged. Pastor David Crabb said services could be held there while the congreation decides what to do about rebuilding a sancuary, office and nursery.
Neighboring churches have also offered their spaces as an temporary alternative.