Skip to main content

Two years after arson that destroyed historic Melrose church, police have a suspect

The fire caused millions of dollars worth of damage.

It's been more than two years since fire devastated St. Mary's Catholic Church in Melrose, Minnesota, and police finally have a suspect.

The blaze on March 11, 2016 destroyed the historic, then 118-year-old Romanesque Revival-style church, causing several million dollars of damage.

The church, with its distinctive 130-foot towers, suffered catastrophic damage on its interior, including flooding in its basement. 

Among the items destroyed in the fire was its wooden altar, which was made in Germany and installed prior to the church's dedication in 1899.

A week-and-a-half after the blaze, Melrose police and Stearns County investigators determined it had been started deliberately, and on Wednesday announced they think they've found the person who did it.

A teenager who was 13 at the time of the fire told deputies that he was the one who set the blaze.

Melrose police had no joy in the first 22 months of their probe, but in January asked for help from Stearns County Sheriff's Office to re-investigate its files and provide additional support.

Today's Top Stories

– Budget cuts mean more school job losses, this time in St. Paul.

– Fairgoer creates State Fair new foods map, and people love it.

This led to the re-interviewing of several witnesses and re-examination of the evidence, which eventually led them to the boy, who confessed to the fire under questioning.

He has been charged with 1st degree arson, though his name hasn't been released as he's being prosecuted in Juvenile Court.

The church hasn't reopened since the fire, with the Star Tribune reporting the St. Cloud Diocese plans to replace it with a $12 million new church on land nearby.

This has been met with opposition from the mostly German Catholic community in Melrose, however, who have started a group called Friends to Restore St. Mary’s Church to try and bring the original building back to life.

After the boy was arrested, Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson said: "Any unsolved crime produces a sense of unease in communities. I know the arson of the church has left an indelible mark on the entire area."

"It is our hope that this will be a positive step in putting the community at ease along with healing for the congregation of St. Mary’s Catholic Church," he added.

Next Up

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 7.45.44 PM

Protest for Tyre Nichols to be held outside MN Governor’s Mansion

Activists groups say they’ll call on Gov. Tim Walz and the Legislature to implement police reforms.

Pool

Minnesota pool contractor banned from industry, must pay $2 million-plus

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed suit against Charles Workman and his company, MN Crete Pools, LLC, in August.

Minneapolis police

St. Paul man identified as victim of north Minneapolis homicide

The shooting occurred on the 2200 block of Emerson Avenue North on Wednesday.

ambulance

Two youths seriously injured after being struck by driver in Bloomington

Police say the boy is in a critical condition, while the girl has severe injuries.

Rosedale Center

Two men sentenced for carjacking in Rosedale Center parking lot

Leon Kismit Bell, 49, and Jack Mitchell Piche, 23, were sentenced in U.S. District Court on Jan. 20.

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 3.59.30 PM

Police identify White Bear Lake officer shot while serving warrant

The officer is a six-year veteran of the department.

abortion, planned parenthood

Minnesota Senate passes bill codifying abortion into state law

Having already passed in the House, it will now be sent to Gov. Tim Walz for signing into law.

Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 7.45.44 PM

Tyre Nichols: Initial police version of events bear similarities to George Floyd killing

Memphis PD said Nichols complained of 'shortness of breath' following 'confrontations' with police, who in reality violently beat him.

George Floyd, protest

Twin Cities authorities preparing for community reaction to Tyre Nichols video

The ATF division in St. Paul sent out an alert out of "an abundance of caution."

Related

Screen Shot 2021-03-22 at 6.32.32 AM

Police trying to ID car linked to possible arson in New Brighton

A garage was set on fire and a lawn sign was stolen.

Historic Minnesota church burns down in fire Sunday night

The 160-year-old church was completely destroyed.

Fire, firefighters

Fire heavily damages century-old church in northeast Minneapolis

The fire started Monday night and caused much of the church's roof to collapse.

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 10.01.31 AM

Church burns after suspected lightning strike in west-central MN

Service was held in the church parking lot the next morning.