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Deputies: Beverly Hills man arrested after several attempted arsons, including a church

Police
Posted at 1:02 PM, Oct 23, 2021

CITRUS COUNTY, Fla — Citrus County deputies say they arrested a man after he attempted to burn down a church, and multiple homes.

October 22 around 7 a.m., Citrus County deputies and Citrus County Fire Rescue were dispatched to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church located at 6 Roosevelt Boulevard in Beverly Hills regarding a brush fire.

A witness told first responders he saw a white male wearing a black leather jacket and tan shorts running across the parking lot towards the front of the church. The witness then saw the man pour gas around a tree and a statue of Jesus Christ and set both on fire.

Deputies on the scene checked the church's surveillance cameras and saw the man matching the description given by the witness. While reviewing the footage they discovered the same suspect also trying to light propane tanks near the building on fire.

Citrus County deputies received a call of a fire off of South Barbour Street in Beverly Hills, where the homeowner told deputies that a fence on the property was set on fire. The homeowner reported the front door and windows were covered in a liquid, possibly gasoline.

At a third location on South Wadsworth Avenue in Beverly Hills, first responders were dispatched to a structure fire. On scene, Citrus County Fire Rescue saw flames coming from an open window. The fire rescue crew were able to extinguish the fire which caused major damage to the home. The home was vacant at the time of the fire.

CCSO Community Crimes Detectives Helfritz and Hughes began an investigation into these three arson cases. With the obtained video surveillance footage from the church, they were able to identify 25-year-old James Lee Harris of Beverly Hills as a person of interest from the video footage.

Through help from the community, deputies found Harris' whereabouts and he was taken into custody shortly before 10 p.m. Harris allegedly confessed to setting all three fires. Harris was arrested on one felony count of arson to a dwelling, one count of misdemeanor criminal mischief, one felony count of arson to a church, and one count of misdemeanor of criminal mischief to a church. He is currently being held at the Citrus County Detention Facility on a $36,000 bond.

"Not only is arson dangerous, but in some cases can be deadly," said Sheriff Prendergast. "No one in our community was injured during Harris' tirade of inconceivable acts. I applaud our deputies, Community Crimes Detectives, and our partners at Citrus County Fire Rescue for working swiftly and diligently to keep our community safe from further harm. I would also like to thank our witnesses for coming forward so quickly with invaluable information that helped us solve this crime."