One person charged in 2022 Rochester church arson case, Congregation reacts
(ABC 6 News) – Rochester police have been investigating an arson fire at a church since spring 2022.
The fire happened at Peace United Church the day after Easter, causing between around $4 million in damage, according to Peace United’s Senior Pastor Paul Bauch.
Late last week, charges were filed against 22-year-old Sesen Tesfay of Rochester. Tesfay has been charged with first-degree arson, second-degree burglary, first-degree damage to property, and misdemeanor theft.
The entire north half of the building was gutted, and several parts of the building needed replacement including the ceilings and flooring.
Nobody was injured in the fire or in the building at the time.
It’s taken time for the congregation to heal from a fire that destroyed the north half of Peace United.
For some congregation members, it was a flash back to another fire which happened to the church in 1976; for others it was a massive loss for community space.
“It was a lot of grief, a lot of hurt and pain,” said Bauch.
Bauch has been a part of this congregation for nearly 22 years. He says the experience shook them, but they stayed focused on their mission.
“[It’s] a testament to this congregation, they never lost sight of what we’re about and our calling to do ministry in this community.”
The congregation of Peace United were not the only ones who lost much the day of the fire. The entirety of Listos pre-school was destroyed, as the fire started within their space in the building.
“We had been here for more than seven years and we had so many great materials and things that teachers make and then really special items that you can’t just replace, and those were all gone,” said Christina Valdez, Executive Director of Listos.
More than a year later, Listos returned home to Peace United and celebrated with their annual Butterfly Fest.
“That was basically our homecoming, we were alike to how the Monarchs they fly home to Mexico and then they fly back here. So we had flown to Mt. Olive and then we got to fly back here.”
While Pastor Bauch is glad to finally see charges in this case, that’s not his focus as he prepares for another Sunday in this rebuilt space.
“This person does need to be held accountable, whoever it is, but at the same time to know that they are loved as well. It’s kind of a weird balance of a lot of emotions.”