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Falls Man Admits Torching Church, Vandalism Spree

January 26, 2016


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Robert James, 215.348.6332, rdjames@buckscounty.org

A Falls Township man today admitted firebombing a church, slashing tires of 18 vehicles, and defacing a public park, a community pool and a school in his neighborhood last spring.

John P. Serina Jr., 34, pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court to charges including arson, institutional vandalism, criminal mischief, loitering and prowling and possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia.

Judge Rea B. Boylan said she would sentence Serina sometime in February. Deputy District Attorney Robert D. James told the judge he would be requesting an aggravated-range sentence of three to six years in state prison, followed by six years of probation. 

Firefighters encountered three fires when they were summoned to the Restoration Church, 401 Pinewood Drive, before dawn on April 19. A cross was ablaze in the yard in front of the church, playground equipment and mulch were burning to the side, and a bathroom in the basement of the church was on fire.

A half-empty soda bottle containing gasoline was found near the cross. A broken beer bottle believed to have contained an accelerant was found in the bathroom, apparently thrown there.  

Among the first neighbors encountered by the fire marshal was Serina. The fire marshal described him as “excited and agitated” by the vandalism done to the church. Serina volunteered that he had just returned home from walking his dog when he smelled smoke coming from the church.

Nearly two months later, on June 11, Serina’s SUV was stopped by police after he fired a BB gun several times from the moving vehicle. While being questioned, Serina confessed that he had set the cross and playground fires at Restoration Church, and that he had thrown a gas-filled bottle into the church bathroom.

Serina also confessed to several episodes of vandalism since the church fires, all of which had happened not far from his home.

On May 17, the tires of 18 vehicles were punctured outside 14 homes in Serina’s neighborhood. Serina told police he had damaged the tires while walking his dog.

On May 21, police reported that two signs, a slide, a park bench and a chain-link fence had been defaced with spray paint at the Pinewood Community pool near Serina’s home. The same day, school staff at Walt Disney Elementary School, which is near Serina’s neighborhood, found the outside wall of the school library and the playground area had been spray-painted with graffiti.

School workers discovered three spray-paint cans on the roof of the school. Two of the three cans were found to have been purchased at a nearby Walmart store. Police obtained store surveillance video showing a man resembling Serina purchasing the cans of paint and leaving the parking lot in a white SUV.

On June 9, Walt Disney Elementary was vandalized again, this time with graffiti on windows, doors and a lamp pole. Spray paint and a permanent marker had been used.

The next day, June 10, a police officer was checking for more surveillance video at the nearby Walmart when he spotted Serina pulling into the parking lot in the same white SUV. A check of the license tag showed that the vehicle was owned by Serina.  Later that day, police received a report that an air compressor and a garage door at Pinewood Community Pool had been spray-painted with graffiti.

A day later, on June 11, came the BB gun incident that led to Serina’s arrest and confession. He has been held since then in the Bucks County Correctional Facility. Judge Boylan revoked his bail after accepting Serina’s guilty plea.

Approved for release by Matt Weintraub, Chief of Prosecution.

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