British Columbia

Community bands together as Little Free Library arsonists wreak havoc in Tri-Cities

A possible serial arsonist is wreaking havoc in the Tri-Cities and their prime target is Little Free Libraries, the popular small book exchanges that dot residential neighbourhoods.

Coquitlam RCMP say they have already received many tips from the public

Coquitlam RCMP said two teens have been arrested in connection with a series of arson fires set to 11 Little Free Libraries in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam. (Coquitlam RCMP)

A possible serial arsonist is wreaking havoc in the Tri-Cities and their prime target is Little Free Libraries, the popular small book exchanges that dot residential neighbourhoods.

Coquitlam RCMP says seven fires are being investigated at Little Free Libraries in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam between March 20 and April 6.

Cpl. Michael McLaughlin says although police are keeping an open mind, it's difficult not to notice the pattern.

"It's in the same general area. It's the same general crime and it's happening around the same time of day," he said.

"So, certainly, we're aware that it could be one individual, but it could also be multiple individuals. We need more evidence."

McLaughlin warns the fires are dangerous not just to the structures but also to the surrounding areas.

Strong community reaction

"It's a very sad thing to hear," said Margaret Aldrich, programming manager at Little Free Library, a global not-for-profit that operates in 91 countries.

A Little Free Library in Thunder Bay. The program allows the community to exchange books with other members of the neighbourhood. (littlefreelibrary.org)

The libraries are built and maintained by community volunteers.

"We know how much the stewards behind Little Free Libraries care about, not only their Little Free Library but about their community," said Aldrich.

"And so it really hurts our hearts to hear that their good work volunteering in their community is being destroyed."

However, she adds that when Little Free Libraries are targeted, the community generally rallies behind the volunteers and their book exchange.

"It's encouraging to us when we see that a community stands up for that Little Free Library and doesn't let something bad happening to it kill the spirit of kindness and community that's really behind the whole concept," said Aldrich.

Corp. McLaughlin says he's already noticed a strong community reaction.

"It's really upsetting people," he said, adding he has already received more tips than normal from the public.

"With targeted shootings, often you can't get anybody to say anything. But you have something like this and, guaranteed, the community is going to do everything they can to help us solve this crime and we're optimistic that we can get there," said McLaughlin. 

Little Free Librarys is a not-for-profit with exchange boxes all around the world. It says when the community book exchanges are targeted, it often sees an increase in community support. (Little Free Library)

Police looks to the public for help

Coquitlam RCMP are asking the public to be on the lookout if they have community book exchanges in their neighbourhood.

"Normally, if you saw suspicious activity around these book exchanges, you might not think anything of it," said McLaughlin.

"But we need people to call 911 right away if they see something odd around those little libraries."

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