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Man sets ablaze Phoenix LGBT youth centre

The video shows a man walking up to the LGBT youth center in the middle of a sunny Arizona day, looking around him as he holds a red gasoline can.

He steps into the center and casually pours liquid onto the floor of the rooms. As he walks back outside, closing the door behind him, the floor erupts in flames, the blaze spreading through the rooms of the center.

No one was injured in the July 12 blaze, but the Phoenix LGBT youth center, run by an organization called One-n-Ten, was completely destroyed. Fire officials initially believed it was an accident caused by a “combination of improperly stored rags and batteries mixed with a hot, ventilated room,” Rob McDade, Phoenix Fire Department captain, told the Arizona Republic.

But on Wednesday, the Phoenix Fire Department announced it wasinvestigating the fire as arson, after surveillance footage was recovered of the man dousing the floor with liquid just before the blaze. Authorities asked for help in finding the suspect, identifying him as Darren William Beach Jr., 26.

Phoenix Fire Department officials are searching for Darren William Beach Jr., who is suspected of arson. This video capture is from July 12, 2017, when fire broke out at a Phoenix LGBT youth center.
(Photo: Phoenix Fire Department via The Arizona Republic)

As soon as One-n-10 staff members saw the video, they immediately recognized the man’s face. The organization said it was “sad to report” that the suspect had used the center’s services on and off for about three years.

“This news hurts,” executive director Linda Elliott said in a news conference Wednesday. “Obviously this young man has issues and needs help.”

The man began using the program services in 2013 and aged out in 2016 once he turned 25, Elliot said. The center staff last made contact with him about two months ago. He apparently also sought services at other organizations in the Valley.

“Someone that you’ve provided services to and helped out, you just would not expect to come back to your center and do this sort of thing,” Elliot said, adding that it was a “total shock.”

She said she does not have any reason to believe the arson was a hate crime. But she said she worries the news will be traumatizing for the youth who use the program’s services.

“Many of them knew this young man, and this is their safe place,” Elliot said. “Someone comes and burns it down … that’s traumatic.”

A number of the young people who come to One-n-Ten struggle with mental illness and behavioral health problems.

“Many of the youth we encounter have been kicked out of their homes because they’re gay,” she said. “They’ve been on the street, they’ve been abused, beat up, sex trafficked.”

Following the initial news of the fire earlier this month, the organization wrote in a Facebook statement that the site would be closed indefinitely.

“Our 24 year old organization was forged by a resilient community, focused on providing youth opportunities, and support service,” the post read.

The center offered activities and an online high school program for LGBT youth. Up to 40 teens and young adults could be seen in the center on any given night, according to the Phoenix Business Journal, and the 3,000-square-foot space served about 1,000 people a year.

Passing by the road on the day of the blaze and “seeing seven firetrucks in front of the building was like a punch in the gut,” Elliott told the Business Journal. The organization lost supplies and electronic equipment, food, hygiene and personal products, and camping equipment.

“Our youth whom we serve have been worried,” the organization said on its website. “Some are shaken. Our staff has been juggling the many issues that surrounded this loss with a great deal of professionalism, but also heartache and long hours.”

But One-n-1o now plans to move to a new location, which it anticipates opening in September. It has opened a temporary location to support the youth who use the program.

Samantha Schmidt is a reporter for The Washington Post’s Morning Mix team. She previously worked as a reporting fellow for the New York Times.  Follow @schmidtsam7 on Twitter.

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