Criminal Complaint: Suspect Admits to Starting Synagogue Fire

Updated: September 16, 2019 10:40 PM

Bail has been set at $20,000 for the man suspected of setting a fire that extensively damaged the Adas Israel Congregation Synagogue in Duluth last week.

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The bail was set for 36-year-old Matthew James Amiot during a hearing late Monday morning.  Although authorities had said Amiot could be charged with arson, he was actually charged with one felony count of negligent fires and a gross misdemeanor count of negligent fires resulting in a human being injured.

According to the criminal complaint, Amiot took a lighter and lit "a variety of combustible materials" on fire around 2:13 a.m. Sept. 9. Authorities say he lit it in an alcove space between the synagogue and a religious structure called a sukkah. 

At 2:15 a.m., Amiot is allegedly seen on surveillance video walking away and looking back at the flames. By 2:22 a.m., when fire crews arrived, there were 3-foot flames coming from the alcove. 

Court documents say by 3:39 a.m., the building started collapsing. One Duluth Fire Captain, Ben Gasner, was hit by falling debris and knocked unconscious. At a press conference Sunday, Chief Shawn Krizaj said he is still recovering from symptoms of a concussion. 

Amiot allegedly admitted to starting the fire and said he tried to spit on the fire to put it out, but when it didn't, he walked away. 

Amiot's address is listed as the CHUM shelter in Duluth. However, CHUM said he was not a recent resident there and added that he has not been a problem at CHUM. 

Official numbers are pending, the criminal complaint said, but the synagogue is valued at about $117,000, and the lost religious artifacts were worth at least $250,000.

Amiot is due back in court Oct. 8. 

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