POPLAR BLUFF -- A fingerprint and an arrest for alleged peace disturbance led authorities to the teenager they believe is responsible for the July fire that destroyed Lively Stone Church of God at 522 Relief St.
Brandin Jaymes Taylor, 17, of the 1400 block of Benton St. was arrested at 10:05 a.m. Thursday at his residence on a warrant charging him with second-degree burglary.
Associate Circuit Judge John Bloodworth issued the warrant for Taylor's arrest Thursday morning after considering the probable-cause affidavit and complaint filed by Butler County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Barbour. Bond was set at $25,000 cash or surety.
The complaint alleges that on July 23 Taylor entered Lively Stone Church to steal.
When the fire occurred at the church on the same night of attempted break-in at a nearby building, officers thought the two were connected, said Poplar Bluff police chief Danny Whiteley.
A witness, he said, reported seeing a suspect run from the Community Resource Building prior to the church fire. A window screen reportedly had been cut in an apparent attempt to gain entry into the building.
"We had a fingerprint match from the attempted burglary at the Community Resource Building," Whiteley said. "Crime scene investigator Tim Davis processed the scene of the burglary [and] recovered a latent fingerprint."
That fingerprint was sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol's crime laboratory, where it was processed and entered into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), according to deputy chief Jeff Rolland.
"At that time, no matches were found," Rolland said. "Subsequent to that, on Sept. 30, patrol officers were sent to an address on Benton Street in regards to a peace disturbance complaint involving Mr. Taylor. This complaint resulted in Taylor's arrest.
"Mr. Taylor was brought to the police department, booked and his fingerprints were taken and entered into AFIS. This resulted in a match of Mr. Taylor's fingerprints to the unknown, latent fingerprint taken from the burglary scene at the Community Resource Center, across the street from the Lively Stone Church arson scene."
Members of the department's Criminal Investigation Bureau, along with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives agents interviewed Taylor Wednesday afternoon, "wherein he admitted to the burglary of the Outreach Center and the burglary of the Lively Stone Church, which resulted in a fire that destroyed the church," Rolland explained.
According to Taylor's statement, the fire was not intentionally set, Rolland said.
"He stated he was out shaking doors, not breaking in, but if he found something open, he would go in and pilfer," said Capt. Mike Elliott.
Rolland described Taylor's alleged crime as a "burglary of opportunity."
Taylor reportedly told officers at around midnight July 22, he left his residence and walked toward Hillcrest Park, Detective David Sutton said in his probable-cause affidavit.
"Taylor walked south on North Main Street, and turned east on Relief Street," Sutton said. "Taylor tried [unsuccessfully] to enter the Lyle Kearbey Building, located at 644 Charles St., through a locked window.
"When this effort failed, Taylor walked across the street to the Lively Stone Church. Taylor entered the Lively Stone Church through an unsecured door on the south side of the building."
The door, Sutton said, opened into a room with a desk, computer and shelves.
"Taylor spent around 10 to 15 minutes in this room, using the Internet, then tried to open a door, which led further into the building," Sutton said. "Taylor met resistance behind this door and forced it open.
"As he did, Taylor heard a 'pop' and saw a flash of light. Taylor fled the building and walked north on Main Street toward his residence." Sutton said Taylor did not call to report the fire for fear of arrest and prosecution.
"Taylor stated that he hoped the fire would burn itself out," Sutton said. "As Taylor neared his residence, he saw a firetruck traveling toward the church." Poplar Bluff firefighters responded at about 1:10 a.m. to the church, which was fully engulfed upon their arrival.
There were "flames coming out all the windows, except one. [Flames from] the side windows were lapping up," fire Capt. David Marler said at the time.
The roof subsequently collapsed, leaving only the walls of the brick-block building standing.