New York City police continued to hunt a serial arsonist Sunday suspected of setting fire to seven homes since early November, while neighbors in the ravaged area say the firebug – who has taunted cops with coded riddles – is targeting only Jewish residents.
According to DNAinfo.com, The NYPD Arson and Explosive Squad is investigating the fires, which began on Nov. 8 in the Forest Hills, Queens, neighborhood. There have been a total of seven fires since then, four of which investigators have deemed suspicious.
The fires all broke out at buildings that were under construction or being renovated.
Police have released video footage of the suspected arsonist who, based on the video, was described at about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, trim, and wearing a hooded sweatshirt -- “looking like a ninja,” according to authorities, the news site reported
“What’s interesting here is there’s no accelerant," NYPD’s Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. “It's combustible materials found at the scene.”
“We are scared."
- Boris Yuabov
The suspect left a coded riddle near the scene of the latest fire, which happened Nov. 25, seemingly trying to taunt the police.
“Decode this message to find out the person who caused the fire,” the note read, according to DNAinfo.com.
The note also had rows of numbers and letters, and a Sudoku-loving cop quickly solved the message, which turned out to be the name of a Forest Hills resident. Police have determined the person had nothing to do with the fires.
“Initially we looked at it as a lead,” Boyce said about the note during a recent press conference, adding that police "don’t believe he is involved in the fire at all."
Residents in the fire-hit area, meanwhile, are “outraged and concerned” because all the buildings set ablaze belonged to Bukharian Jews, The Jewish Week reported.
“People are outraged and concerned,” Aron Borukhov, an attorney who has lived in the neighborhood with his wife and three children for the past 16 years, told the newspaper. “The community needs to be proactive so the situation doesn’t escalate.”
NYPD officials are not currently calling the arsons hate crimes, but members of the local Bukharian community feel otherwise.
“If seven Jewish homes had been burned in France within a month, there would be much more of an uproar,” Boris Yuabov, a doctor who has lived in the community for the past six years with his three children, told The Jewish Week.
“We are scared. These fires are started in the dead of night in a neighborhood with many children and elderly individuals. This is a life-threatening situation,” he said.
No injuries have been reported in any of the incidents; 13 people have been displaced due to the fires.
The NYPD is offering a $12,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect. Police ask anyone with information on the arsons to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477)