Arson suspected after Gastonia youth group home goes up in flames

Arson suspected after Gastonia youth group home goes up in flames

GASTONIA, N.C. — Officials told Channel 9 they believe a massive fire that tore through a Gaston County youth group home early Sunday was set intentionally.

Dozens of firefighters were called before dawn to With Friends Inc. on Keith Drive in Gastonia and reported huge flames coming from the roof of the building.

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Video posted on Facebook by the Gastonia Fire Department shows firefighters and hose lines scattered around the building as flames climbed into the night sky.

Channel 9 learned that there was a social worker and four children inside when someone started a fire near the building.

Officials told reporter Ken Lemon a teenager has been arrested, accused of setting the fire. They said they will not release any additional information about the suspect because the individual is a minor.

Video from this mornings structure fire at With Friends Inc. located on Keith Drive in Gastonia. No injuries were reported and the fire is being investigated by the Gastonia Fire Marshal’s Office and Gastonia Police Department.

Posted by Gastonia Fire Department on Sunday, November 17, 2019

Officials said everyone inside was able to make it out safely and that nobody was hurt in the blaze. The director told Channel 9 several children were traumatized by the fire, and have been moved to another building.

"My heart aches for the kids that were devastated by the experience," associate director Monica Lail said. "That's just another layer on the trauma they have already experienced."

With Friends is a community-based organization that was established in 1990 to meet the needs of homeless, in crisis and at-risk youth, according to its website. It provides "residential shelter care, food, counseling, education, skill-building, case management, outreach, follow-up and referral services that focus on positive youth development."

The group home takes in children ages 10 to 21.

They are here for all various reasons," Lail said. "Neglect, abuse, substance abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse."

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Extra counselors have been called in to help the survivors cope with the fire.

Administrators told Channel 9 that the plan to delay the fire drill they have once a month because they worry the sound of the alarm will trigger a feeling of loss for survivors.

Officials said most of the group home's food was lost in the fire and the nonprofit is in desperate need of donations.

People are already stepping up to help.

Elizabeth Carpenter's charity group, Sentinels of Hope, brought food for the group home Sunday night and a freezer to store more food Monday.

"Kids are close to our hearts," Carpenter said.

GFD responded to this structure fire at With Friends Inc. located on Keith Drive early this morning in Gastonia. No...

Posted by Gastonia Fire Department on Sunday, November 17, 2019

Officials said the fire caused a half-million dollars in damage.

The fire is being investigated by the Gastonia Fire Marshal’s Office and Gastonia Police Department.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this story.