Arson and robbery suspected in Celina city hall destruction; temporary city hall set up in Eads building on the square

 

By KEVIN DONALDSON

CELINA-Arson and robbery are suspected in connection with a fire early last Friday morning that destroyed city hall here, officials say.

The building, which also housed the Clay County Rescue Squad, was described by Celina mayor Buddy Thompson as a “total loss.” He said initial investigations conducted by various law enforcement agencies pointed to arson and robbery. 

There was evidence of forced entry into the building, and several firearms and narcotics were missing from a locked cabinet where city police stored evidence, Thompson said. 

Local officials joined investigators from the state Fire Marshall’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in combing through the building’s remains on Friday. 

Thompson said “persons of interest” have been brought in for questioning, and the investigation is ongoing.

The blaze is thought to have started sometime around 2 a.m. Friday morning, Thompson said, and was spotted by city policeman Marcus Copeland.  Firefighters from across the county responded to the call, Thompson said, offering thanks to all the departments and individuals involved. 

“They had a tough job and worked diligently,” Thompson said. “I don’t know what the city would have done without them. Our thanks go out to them, and to all the folks who donated food for them and the other people working so hard.”

Two firefighters were slightly injured battling the blaze, but were treated and returned to the scene, Thompson said. 

While the building was a total loss, not all the contents were, the mayor said. Most business-related items were “backed-up” on the computer system, and material stored in fireproof cabinets made it through the ordeal, he said. City officials were still sorting through the debris over the weekend to see exactly what survived the fire.

However, it appears all the older ordinances and paperwork, along with old water and sewer maps, were destroyed. 

“Some of that material dated back 40 or 50 years,” Thompson said. 

On the rescue squad side of the building, all the squad vehicles and a lot of other equipment were removed from the building before it was engulfed, Thompson said. “It looks like they were able to get most of their stuff out,” he said.

 

Temporary location

set up on the square

Officials worked quickly to set up a temporary city hall on the square in the Eads building, which most recently housed a Chinese restaurant. Phone lines have been connected and city business can be conducted in person there.

City employees worked over the weekend getting the office set up. 

“City hall will be located here until further notice,” Thompson said. 

“This is just a tremendous tragedy, and Friday was a tough, tough day for everyone,” Thompson said. “We hope everybody will bear with us during this difficult time. We’re going to do the best we can to keep things running as well as possible.”

The new city administration (see related election story) will take office July 1.