An Augusta County man with a long history of arson and bomb making is now accused of setting fire to a place of worship. It's one of two recent church fires, but the only one that's been declared arson.
Virginia State Police credit firefighters and citizens for helping find Paul Lenwill Cupp, the man they believe is responsible for the most recent church fire. He's now behind bars in what's at least his third arson-related arrest.
Just three days after a small fire scorched the outside of Hildebrand Mennonite Church, state police named and arrested their suspect.
Joe Rader with Virginia State Police said, "Sometimes our investigations are fairly immediate in determining cause and origin. The pieces were there. The evidence came together. And it led to the arrest of Mr. Cupp."
Police believe Cupp set fire to the church's vinyl siding on Saturday night. But the flames were extinguished by a passerby before they caused serious damage.
That's a familiar story for the 35-year-old Crimora man. In 1996 he was convicted in federal court for placing a bomb in the Grottoes Post Office, and in 2004 in Rockingham County for trying to blow up a gas station. State police won't comment on Cupp's prior convictions.
So far they've found no evidence of a connection to the suspicious fire that destroyed Mount Bethel Church on September 30, or Monday's small trailer fire on the same street where Cupp lived.
"We're not in a position to consider linking any of the fires number one. Number two is we're not in any position to link those fires if in fact they were intentional to Mr. Cupp," Rader said.
State police say they're still investigating both recent church fires, with expert help from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Cupp served four years in prison for the post office bomb and another five years for the gas station attempted arson. If convicted on the new arson charge, he could pull a decade behind bars.
Virginia State Police Press Release
AUGUSTA CO., Va. – On Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, special agents with the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Appomattox Field Office arrested a Crimora man in connection with a fire at the Hildebrand Mennonite Church in Augusta County. Paul L. Cupp, 36, of Crimora was arrested without incident at his residence on Meadow Rue Lane following the execution of a search warrant. Cupp is charged with one count of maliciously burning or destroying an unoccupied church by fire or explosives. He was transported to the Middle River Regional Jail in Verona. The Augusta County Fire Department, Augusta County Sheriff's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assisted with the arrest.
At approximately 10:47 p.m. on Saturday, (Oct. 8, 2011), a state police arson investigator was called to investigate a fire that took place at the Hildebrand Mennonite Church located in the 500 block of Hildebrand Church Road in northern Augusta County. A preliminary investigation showed the fire appeared to have started on the southwest side near the entrance to the church's sanctuary. The church received superficial damage as a result. There were no injuries. The investigation remains on-going. At this time, there is no evidence linking this arson investigation to other fires in the area.
The joint efforts and cooperation between the Augusta County Fire Department, the Augusta County Sheriff's Office, citizens in the community and the state police arson investigator resulted in the identification and arrest of a suspect.
"This investigation is an example of good teamwork and working collaboratively to establish probable cause for an arrest in this investigation," says Lt. Joseph A. Rader, Special Agent-In-Charge of the Virginia State Police Appomattox Field Office. "Our investigator received valuable information from citizens in the community and stayed aggressive which produced positive results."
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