Monday, June 22, 2015

Cops: Falls church firebomber was a suspect from the beginning

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2015
The tale that John Serina Jr. told about how he discovered a burning cross outside a Falls church struck its pastor as odd. Falls police also found holes in the story that the 33-year-old township man offered.
Serina claimed he was walking his dog around 5 a.m. April 19 when he spotted the burning cross outside the Restoration Church in the 400 block of Pinewood Drive, according to police. He ran back to his home, which is three houses away, grabbed a trash can and started filling it with water, he claimed.
John Serina Jr.
By the time he returned, though, he said firefighters were on scene extinguishing two fires outside the church and one inside. Fire investigators later determined that someone set fire to the wooden cross in front of the church as well as a playhouse in the fenced playground. A bathroom inside the church was also damaged after a homemade firebomb was thrown through a broken window.
The fires resulted in $65,000 in damage to the small church, part of the Mid-Atlantic Division of Converge Worldwide, a Baptist denomination, church officials said.
The firebombing was the first act of what would become a mysterious vandalism spree throughout the Pinewood section of Levittown resulting in at least another $10,000 in damage, and culminating Thursday with the arrest of Serina, a convicted felon who police developed as a suspect almost from the start, according to Falls Police Lt. Hank Ward.
“It’s a big relief on our end,” Ward said at a news conference Thursday announcing the arrest.
Tullytown police arrested Serina shortly before 2:30 a.m. Thursday after he allegedly fired a pellet gun three times at a man walking in the Pinewood section where it borders Tullytown. The pellets did not hit the man, but did damage a parked car, Ward said. The man provided police with a good description of the suspect’s car.
Serina is being held at Bucks County prison on a detainer for a parole violation. He is expected to be formally arraigned Monday on charges including arson.
Serina had been on the Falls police radar since the church fire. He was the one who reported the fire to authorities and he was among the first people on the scene, Ward said.
Restoration’s pastor, Ross Manders, on Thursday recalled speaking with Serina the day of the fire and listening to his story about how he discovered it.
“He just kept saying the same story over and over again about how many great things we had done to the community listing them off one by one, and no one ever should have done something like this to a church,” Manders said. “Myself and a couple others immediately suspected that he possibly had something to do with it, only because his reaction was so over the top.”
Falls police also thought the man’s story about discovering the fire was strange.
“We interviewed him that day and his story really didn’t make sense,” Ward said.
Almost a month after the fire, police say the owners of about 20 vehicles parked in the Pinewood section reported their tires were slashed overnight. Police allege 30 tires were damaged on cars parked mostly along Poplar Lane and Pinewood Drive. During the tire slashing investigation, police obtained surveillance video from a homeowner that purportedly captured the suspect.
The video quality was too grainy to get a good image of the suspect, but it did reveal he had an unusual “physical feature” that led police to suspect Serina, Ward said. He declined to provide more information about the feature.
On Wednesday police developed information that made them suspect Serina might strike again that night, so they had extra patrols near Pinewood, Ward said.
“We were hoping that he would do something last night .... He did do something stupid last night and we caught him,” he added.
Serina confessed to slashing the tires as well as several vandalism acts — mostly graffiti — at Walt Disney Elementary School in neighboring Tullytown and the Pinewood Pool, Ward said. He also reportedly confessed to the arson at Restoration Church.
Falls police say they’ve had numerous contacts involving Serina over the years, including one in December 2008 when he was arrested for kidnapping two juveniles at gunpoint, an incident during which shots were fired, Ward said. Serina was convicted and spent five years in state prison and is still on parole, he added.
Exactly why Serina went on the vandalism spree remains a mystery, Ward said.
“He didn’t say why. He didn’t have a good explanation,” he added. “He was just going over his life and his unhappiness in life.”
Meanwhile, Manders says that he would like to visit Serina in prison, and that he holds no bitterness toward him.
“He is a sad and very unhappy person. That is not any way to live a life, that is not the life we were intended to live as human beings,” Manders said. “I want to offer him an explanation of how he was created to be. To give him some hope. To tell him there is forgiveness in this world and, we, as a church body forgive him for what he has done, even though it’s been a huge headache.”

More Information
Recent crimes that Falls police allege John Paul Serina Jr. is responsible for:
  • April 19: Arson at Restoration Church in Pinewood section of Levittown
  • May 16: Vandalism, nearly 30 tires slashed on parked cars in the Pinewood section of Levittown
  • May 21: Vandalism at Walt Disney School and Pinewood Pool involving graffiti
  • June 9: Vandalism at Walt Disney School and Pinewood Pool involving graffiti
  • June 10: Vandalism at Pinewood Pool involving graffiti
  • June 11: Fired a pellet gun three times at a man walking in Pinewood section of Levittown; man was not injured but the pellets struck and damaged a car.

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