UPDATE: Ellis Library fire suspect charged with burglary, arson

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | 4:18 p.m. CDT; updated 6:54 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 8, 2012

COLUMBIA — At least 10 separate fires were burning when first responders entered Ellis Library in the early hours of Sept. 10, according to a probable cause statement filed Friday.

Christopher Curtis Kelley, 25, was charged with second-degree burglary and second-degree arson in connection with the fires.


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Kelley turned himself in to MU police after the department issued a Clery release about the incident, which occurred around 3:30 a.m. Sept. 10, according to the probable cause statement filed by MU police detective Michael Laughlin. The library remained closed for three days and the  State Historical Society of Missouri was closed for four days due to damage caused by the fires.

The likely accelerant used for the fire was a product used for polishing brass, according to the statement.  Ellis staff estimated total damage to the library at $600,000 to $1 million.

Laughlin interviewed two people who knew Kelley, according to the statement. One said Kelley told them he had entered Ellis and left it through an open window, and another said Kelley "is known to walk around and try to find unlocked buildings" and enter them after drinking.

According to details in the probable cause statement:

  • Police found only one open window, located in the library's Copy Service area.
  • A container of Parks Brass Refurbisher was found lying in the mulch just outside the window, and Assistant Fire Marshal Lt. Debbie Sorrell said the product could be used as an accelerant.

  • Five fires were found in and around the reserve area.

  • Two fires were found in the Copy Service office.
  • One fire was found in the Access Service area.
  • One fire was found in the Interlibrary Loan office.
  • One fire was found behind the circulation desk.

  • Several cameras, windows and computer monitors were damaged.

  • Human feces and urine were found on a study desk on the fourth floor.

  • "WELCOME TO THE BUNGHOLE — WE GOT FUN AND GAMES" was written in black marker on a note found on top of a printer in the Access Service offices.

Footage from internal Ellis security cameras showed a security officer completing security checks at approximately 8:30 p.m. No other people are seen until a person, later identified as Kelley, was recorded on the security footage at about 3:07 a.m.

The clery report Sept. 10included surveillance photos and asked for help identifying the person in the security footage. They received several tips that Kelley was the man in the pictures, and Kelley went to the MU police after seeing himself in the clery report. He was arrested shortly before noon at the police station.

Kelley said during his interview with Laughlin that he had left a party earlier in the night and decided to walk around, according to the statement. Kelley said he had been in Ellis and was the person in the security camera footage but denied starting any fires, according to the statement.

At the time of his arrest, Kelley was employed with the MU Police Department as a part-time events assistant. There is no apparent connection suggested in the probable cause statement between the crimes he is accused of committing and his employment.

Kelley waived his formal arraignment and pleaded not guilty, according to court records. His first court appearance has not been scheduled.

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