Ottawa

Police identify 'person of interest' in Aylmer church fire probe

Gatineau police said Thursday they have identified a "person of interest" in a blaze that gutted a Catholic church in Gatineau's Aylmer sector last month.

Gatineau police said Thursday they have identified a "person of interest" in a blaze that gutted a Catholic church in Gatineau's Aylmer sector last month.

Isabelle Poirier, who speaks for Gatineau police, said that investigators interviewed several young people who were seen at a Shell gas station nearby, just before the fire was set, who have helped them identify their "person of interest."

St. Paul's Catholic Church, a 120-year-old stone building, was destroyed after a fire was lit at about 1:30 a.m. on June 11.

Police have released a sketch of a man seen near the church before the fire started.

Poirier said inspectors spoke to the people who were at the Shell station and "with the information they got, the investigators were able to find the identity of the person in the sketch."

Police have not yet arrested anyone in connection with the fire, and Poirier said that the person of interest is not, at the moment, a suspect in the arson.

The fire became a suspected arson when police found empty gas cans and evidence of forced entry at the scene.

"We know that the gas can was new and that it was bought at a Canadian Tire," said Poirier of the container found near the fire.

Residents around the area of the church have been asked to check if any of their gas cans are missing — especially a 10-litre red gas can that was sold by Canadian Tire since last spring.

A chance to rebuild

In the meantime, the congregation at St. Paul's Catholic Church has received some good news.

Engineers have said that all four of the stone walls of the church that were left standing after fire tore through the building are strong enough to keep when the church is rebuilt.

Richard Bégin, the warden at the church, said the news is a relief to those who hoped some part of the historic Aylmer landmark could still be preserved.

"When you look at the surface, you wonder if the walls would survive," said Bégin.

"But it was inspected by engineers a couple of days ago, and we learned that the structure is pretty sound – actually not really worse than it was before the fire."

Bégin said that the fire, although devastating, could create an opportunity for the community in Aylmer to make better use of its largest building.

"There was not much you could do apart from having a concert and the masses and so on," said Bégin.

"Now that all those things have changed, there's a possibility to make it even more useful for the community."

Sunday morning services are currently being held at the movie megaplex in Aylmer — the only building large enough to hold the congregation.

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