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Police: Man drank holy water after starting Nashua fire

Union Leader Correspondent

December 06. 2012 2:33PM

Richard Maggs 

NASHUA -- A homeless man who walked into a city church, and according to police, drank holy water and planned to go to confession just two hours after a triple-decker apartment fire has been arrested for allegedly starting the blaze.

Richard Maggs, 53, no fixed address, is accused of lighting an abandoned couch on fire Nov. 17. The couch was sitting in an alley between 88 3/4 Palm St. and 51 Kinsley St., causing the fire to spread to a nine-unit apartment building nearby. The blaze left 24 people homeless the weekend before Thanksgiving.

On Wednesday, Maggs was taken into custody on a felony reckless conduct charge accusing him of starting the blaze. He was arraigned Thursday at the 9th Circuit Court, Nashua District Division, at which time a police affidavit detailing the circumstances of the suspicious fire were unveiled.

A witness who lives nearby on Buck Street told police that Maggs had been living in the alley for several days, sleeping on several discarded couches, according to court documents. Another witness who lives nearby on Kinsley Street echoed those same comments, telling police that Maggs was seen in the alley a little while before the fire started, adding Maggs was allegedly intoxicated and acting rude. Two boys, ages 12 and 10, also told police that they saw a man matching Maggs' description in the alley before the fire broke out.

Nearly two hours after the fire, the Rev. Michael Kerper of St. Patrick's Church on Spring Street contacted police about a man who had been sitting in the front pew of the church for about 10 minutes.

Kerper, according to the affidavit, told police that Maggs drank holy water from the front of the church before taking a seat. When police asked Maggs why he came to the church, Maggs told Officer Michael Lang, "To go to confession." When questioned about the fire, Maggs told police, "The only thing I can think of is that I was walking by and threw a cigarette butt on the ground," says court records.

Although Maggs repeatedly denied knowing anything about the fire, police reported that he had several burn-related injuries - including fresh burns on his face and hand - as well as a cigarette lighter.

"During the duration of the interview with Maggs, he changed his story on multiple occasions and would not directly answer questions when he was asked," says the affidavit filed by Detective Peter Urban.

Police said several witnesses described a man matching Maggs' physical and clothing descriptions at the scene of the fire. During questioning, Maggs told police he had purchased an alcoholic beverage at Khater Market earlier in the day, and that he had been contemplating whether or not he wanted to admit himself to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, as he was looking for help with his alcohol and mental health issues, according to court documents.

All nine apartment units were unlivable after the fire, and three rear apartments were significantly damaged by the blaze. The American Red Cross has assisted many of the residents by providing them with temporary living arrangements. The building, which is owned by the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, is used as affordable housing and transitional living.

Bail for Maggs was set at $5,000 cash or surety. His 53rd birthday was Thursday. He will be back in court on Dec. 18 for a probable cause hearing.

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