Motive of accused arsonist remains a mystery

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – A man who police say confessed to setting nine fires in the Tonawandas earlier this week will face more charges.

Christopher Syracuse is already facing 11 felony and four misdemeanor counts in North Tonawanda. When the 26-year-old is arraigned next week in the City of Tonawanda, he will be charged with an additional three felonies and two misdemeanors.

PHOTOS | See photos from each fire scene

In the City of Tonawanda, Syracuse is accused of starting a fire on Enterprise Street early Tuesday morning. He will be charged with third-degree arson, two counts of fourth-degree arson and two counts of second-degree reckless endangerment.

Syracuse is also accused of setting eight fires in North Tonawanda late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. Police say Syracuse already confessed to starting all of the fires when he was arrested Tuesday night.

RELATED | The mother of Syracuse’s three children spoke to News 4 this week, saying she feels horrible for what Syracuse allegedly did

The North Tonawanda Police Chief says Syracuse gave a reason for his actions, but at a press conference late Tuesday night, he would not elaborate. Syracuse does not have a criminal history to speak of, beside a single charge of petit larceny, and has no mental health history.

Police say they do not believe drugs or alcohol are involved and say Syracuse has been cooperative. The police chief tells News 4 officers have also ruled out financial gain and revenge.



At his court appearance in North Tonawanda on Wednesday, Syracuse asked the judge if he could explain his actions. The judge stopped him, saying it was for Syracuse’s own benefit that he not speak.

The following day, Syracuse was assigned a public defender, who waived Syracuse’s right to a felony hearing. The case will now move to a Niagara County grand jury.

“I don’t know that a felony hearing in this particular case would present anything new that we don’t already know,” said James Rizzo, the public defender representing Syracuse.

Syracuse’s case is the second fire-bug spree this summer in North Tonawanda. Michelle Johnston, 41, currently sits behind bars accused of setting 11 fires to homes on 5th Avenue, including her own.

“I think it’s a coincidence, an interesting coincidence,” said Dr. Brian Joseph, a forensic psychiatrist. “Both of these seem odd. There does not seem to be prior history and it seems to be a cluster.”

He hasn’t talked to either arson suspect and says these cases are complicated because no one fits an exact pattern.

“We do know that people who set fires in general usually have a history of setting fires, they may have aggressive tendencies, they may have lowered intelligence,” said Dr. Joseph.

Between the two alleged fire bugs, there were at total of 20 fires in the Tonawandas and, fortunately, no injuries. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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