Stratford teens charged with setting Shakespeare fire, suspected in other blazes

April 8, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Two Stratford high school students are accused of a string of serious arson fires around the state, including the blazes that destroyed the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford and the storage trailers at Silver Sands State Park.

The youths, one 18 and the other 17, students at Bunnell High School, were charged Monday with setting the fire that destroyed the theater and a truck in Stratford. Police said they are continuing their investigation. The names of the two youths were not immediately released because they were juveniles at the time some of the fires were set. An attorney for the 17-year-old declined comment.

In all, police sources said the two teens are believed to have set six fires, including two in West Haven and one that heavily damaged the former Southbury Training School.

Five police agencies have been involved in the investigation, which are being coordinated by Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Howard Stein and Assistant State’s Attorney Alex Beck in Milford.

Both declined comment.

Police sources said the two teens confessed to setting the fires and that there may be two other students involved. They said the investigation is continuing.

Sources stressed that there is no evidence the teens set the fire that destroyed the buildings at Silver Sands - that separate fire has not been ruled arson - but sources said the teens might have taken advantage of that situation to set the trailers on fire.

Fires that police sources said are attributed to the teens:

Jan. 13: Fire that destroyed the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford

Jan. 15: Vacant building at the Southbury Training School damaged in fire

Feb. 8: Vacant house on Richards Place in West Haven destroyed by fire

Feb. 17: Former Bilco Co. in West Haven damaged by fire

March 9: Truck set afire at Good Earth Tree Care on Longbrook Avenue in Stratford

March 24: Fire damages construction trailers at Silver Sands State Park in Milford

In the early morning of Jan. 13, the American Shakespeare Theater, which once showcased the work of Katharine Hepburn, John Houseman and James Earl Jones, and in its heyday was the second-most popular tourist attraction in the state, burst into flame. The fire raged on through the early morning hours as firefighters from Stratford and Milford fought to get it under control. But in the end, all that was left was a blackened frame.

The state fire marshal’s office later determined that the fire had been set, police said.

On March 19, an early morning fire destroyed the nearly completed bathroom and concession buildings at Silver Sands in Milford. Days later police said an arson-fire heavily damaged the construction trailers near the original fire at the park.

Police confirmed that there is no evidence the fire at the Silver Sand Park buildings, but that arson was the cause of the fire that damaged the trailers.