Middle schoolers accused in Cherry Road arson

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April 24, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Two Murphey Middle School students are charged with arson after investigators say they burned down an abandoned home in south Augusta this morning.

The Richmond County Sheriff's Office and the fire department tell News 12 abandoned house fires are on the rise in Augusta.

Investigators say it's a growing trend, and to stop the problem they need property owners to do their part to keep the criminals out.

House after house after house set on fire and destroyed. It's becoming a common scene in Augusta.

Investigators say a home on Cherry Road was intentionally set on fire this morning, adding one more home to the long list of destroyed property.

"I'd have to say we've seen an increase in the last two months, and I can't (attribute) that to any factor, but I have seen an increase," said Lt. Tony Walden.

The abandoned home had been vacant for quite some time, and it was not secured. Fire investigator Lt. GB Hannan says that's a big problem.

"This house had evidence of people going in and out," Lt. Hannan said. "There were beer bottles, cigarette butts, candles. So it was eventually going to happen, whether intentional or not."

But Lt. Hannan says evidence in the home proved this fire was intentionally set. A witness told investigators they spotted two teens running from the blaze.

Deputies later found the 13- and 14-year-old about a block from the scene.

"From the best that we can determine, they were walking to school and had nothing better to do than go in this house," Lt. Walden said. "They took a cigarette lighter and first lit a mattress on fire in one of the bedrooms."

Investigators say the teens then went through the house lighting other flammable items on fire before running away.

Investigators say witnesses' information is crucial to solving arson investigations like this.

"People who see anything are important to us, and that's what happened on this," Lt. Hannan said.

If you own abandoned property there are ways to protect it. Make sure to check on it often, lock all doors and board up any windows, and ask neighbors to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.

The Murphey Middle School students are each charged with one felony count of arson in the second degree and are being booked into the Youth Detention Center this evening.

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