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September 03, 2021

Four juveniles arrested for allegedly starting fire that destroyed St. Leo Church in Tacony

The damage sustained in the two-alarm blaze forced the building's demolition

Investigations Arrests
St. Leo Church Philly fire @PhillyFireDept/Twitter

A two-alarm fire destroyed St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, located in the Tacony section of Northeast Philadelphia, in May.

Four juveniles are accused of unlawfully entering St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Northeast Philly and starting the fire that destroyed the historic house of worship in May.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office charged two of the juveniles with arson, conspiracy and first-degree burglary. The other two were charged with second-degree burglary and conspiracy. Their names have not been released due to their status as juveniles. 

The alleged perpetrators were identified after investigators received an anonymous tip. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms had offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for setting the fire.

"The crimes alleged here harmed the Tacony community," District Attorney Larry Krasner said. "Philadelphia's historic structures are beloved for so much more than their beauty; in this case, even though the church was being redeveloped for private use, St. Leo was revered for its history of baptisms, weddings, memorials and other milestone life events held by our neighbors in this region over generations."

The 137-year-old building had to be demolished this spring following the two-alarm fire. No one was injured in the blaze, as the church was unoccupied at the time.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia merged the St. Leo Parish with the nearby Our Lady of Consolation Parish in 2013. St. Leo's remained a worship site for another five years until the Archdiocese formally closed the building and ceased ecclesiastical uses.

Located at Keystone and Unruh streets in Tacony, the church was designed by architect Frank R. Watson and built in 1884. It was sold in April to buyers who intended to lease the space for religious purposes. 

The church had been added to the Philadelphia Historical Commission's Register of Historic Places in 2019.

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