from Stearns County Sheriff’s Office news release
A juvenile, 13 at the time, has been charged with Arson in the First Degree for the fire of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Melrose. The fire was reported by a 911 phone call in the early morning of March 11, 2016. The caller reported heavy smoke coming from the rear of the church. The Melrose Police Department, Melrose Fire Department and Melrose Ambulance service responded along with the Freeport and Sauk Centre Fire Departments. Firefighters from these agencies battled the blaze and had it contained around 8:30 p.m.
In the following days, an investigation began involving the Melrose Police Department, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives. The fire caused several million dollars in damage to the 118-year-old Romanesque Revival style church, which was a fixture in the city of Melrose with its 130 foot towers. The fire caused extensive damage to the altar and sacristy area. The wood altar, which was made in Germany and installed prior to the church’s dedication in 1899, was completely destroyed. In addition to the damage caused by the fire, there was several feet of standing water in the basement.
About a week and half after the fire, investigators officially determined and released information that the fire was classified as an arson. For the next 22 months, the Melrose Police Department diligently conducted a thorough investigation on the arson fire along with their state and federal partners. In January of 2018, the Melrose Police Department contacted the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and requested assistance in reviewing the file and providing additional investigative help.