IRISH MOUNTAIN, WV (WVNS)– West Virginia State Police on Tuesday arrested two men in connection with a June 25 fire that destroyed a historic landmark in Raleigh County.
St. Colman Catholic Church was built in 1877 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984, but it was destroyed by a fire on June 25.
Police charged Braxton Allan Miller, 18, of Charleston, with arson and conspiracy, both felonies.
James Dean Elmore, 19, of Beckley, is charged with conspiracy and accessory after the fact, which are felony charges.
Trooper D.L. Daniels reported in the criminal complaint that he was dispatched around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 26, to the church.
Beaver Volunteer Fire Department and Bluefield Fire Department were among the fire stations that responded, according to the complaint.
“The church had been completely burned to the ground,” Daniels stated.
He said firefighters told him the church had been set on fire the previous night but nobody reported it to emergency services.
William Humphrey, the church’s caretaker, told Daniels there was no electricity running to the church, according to Daniels.
Humphrey told Daniels a neighbor had called him around 10 a.m. to tell him the church had burned, and Humphrey called 911, the complaint states.
A police dog came to the scene and indicated that an accelerant was present, according to Daniels.
Daniels stated that he found a bottle of Natty Daddy, an alcoholic drink, in the perimeter of the fire. He also found a Natty Daddy box about a mile from the church, he reported.
Residents of Irish Mountain started to call him with tips, he said.
An anonymous caller told Daniels that his nephew and a group of friends had been at the church “drinking and partying, and one of the boys had set the church on fire.”
Daniels said he interviewed Elmore on June 29. He said Elmore and an unidentified person told him that they and three of their friends were at the church around 11 p.m. on June 25.
Elmore allegedly told Daniels that he had witnessed Miller take a set of plastic flowers, set them in the middle of the church and light them on fire with a lighter, then set a church pew on top of the fire.
Witnesses alleged Miller then left the church, according to the complaint.
They showed “multiple videos” of themselves drinking on the way to the church, the trooper wrote.
Kenny Meador said he just returned to Irish Mountain and bought property there.
Meador said the church was an important local historic site and that it reflected the heritage of the Catholic community and the Irish immigrants who had settled in the area.
“It’s sad, is what it is,” Meador said Tuesday. “I don’t know who did it, but that is useless.
“They didn’t have a church there, hadn’t had it for years and years and years, but that was part of the people that actually moved in on this mountain and survived out here, and that was part of their heritage.
“Not mine, necessarily, but theirs,” he added.
Meador says the church was important to visitors, who often stopped to sign a guestbook.
“A lot of people went there,” reported Meador. “It was designated a place of heritage by the national something, I don’t’ know, but they had a book, and people from all over traveled the roads and stopped to check it out.”