By Cory Smith and Elisabeth Waldon
Daily News staff writers
EDMORE — Three businesses in downtown Edmore were victimized by arson and break-ins the night of Oct. 25.
Police have arrested three suspects for breaking and entering, but have not yet said whether the arson is related.
Chris and Robin Miller closed up Robin’s photography studio, Main Street Portraits, at 424 E. Main St., for the night on Oct. 25, making sure the downtown business continued to appear festive in time for Halloween.
Around midnight, Robin Miller received a phone call alerting her that her business was on fire. Living only a mile away, she rushed to the scene, hoping the call was a mistake.
“I had just bought some battery operated candles for the windows and I thought it was somebody being silly, thinking that was a fire … but it wasn’t a prank.”
Miller arrived to find her business in flames, the fire reaching up into the second story of the building. Cornstalk decorations she had placed outside to celebrate Halloween had been set on fire, spreading to the building.
Firefighters from the Home Township, Belvidere Township and Day Township fire departments worked nearly two hours to extinguish the blaze and prevent it from spreading to adjacent downtown buildings.
“With a structure fire downtown, that is the bad area of town (to have a fire), because it’s usually going to be a big one,” Home Township Fire Chief Tim Irwin said. “When the first truck got there, we saw flames on the outside of the building. We started hitting it from there.”
According to Irwin, had a bystander not spotted the flames and called in the fire, within another 15 minutes the building would have been beyond saving.
According to Irwin, the cause of the fire was ruled arson by a state fire marshal. The investigation has been turned over to the Michigan State Police Lakeview Post. Trooper James Yates could not be reached for comment.
Robin Miller said the fire damage is even worse than it looks.
“The fire shot in between the ceiling and second-story floor and into the upstairs wall,” she said.
Despite the fire, she plans to repair her photography studio, which was insured and suffered “upwards of $20,000” in damages. She hopes to reopen her studio sometime in the winter.
“This is my favorite time of year for photos, and I was ramping up for Christmas time, It’s really a bummer,” she said. “I’ll still be taking pictures outside. I’m hoping to set up a simple backdrop in my basement for studio shots, but we probably won’t be back full force until January. There’s still a lot of things we just don’t know.
“I’m devastated by it, but we’ve had a lot of good people that have rallied around us to help,” she added. “The fire department was right on it. They took special care and treated the place like it was their own. I have a new respect for firefighters.”
Breaking and entering
The same night as the arson, two other businesses were broken into — the Montabella Community Schools Central Office building and the Endeavor Center, both of which share the same building at 302 W. Main St.
Montabella Superintendent Shelly Millis said the school’s Central Office building damages included a shattered glass entrance door, a window on another door and a window leading to the old boiler room. The break-in was discovered around 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
“The incident did cause some disruption to our activities at the building for that day,” Millis said. “The building serves as the location of our virtual school. The damage to facility resulted in us having to displace that program from our Central Office to a different facility for the day. Our students that attend the virtual program on a daily basis rely on that environment to receive support from a teacher and to have a quiet spot to work; it was unfortunate that their daily routine had to be altered due to the incident. Office personnel were unable to perform their daily duties until after the police had collected evidence at the scene; however, the office was open for business by mid-morning and we were able to perform our duties from that point on.”
Millis said the three juveniles arrested had all been associated with Montabella Community Schools at some point.
Jessica Aldridge, executive director of the Endeavor Center, said she and her staff spent a good majority of the day cleaning up and figuring out what was stolen. The Endeavor Center is a facility that works to help young people and the community in general.
Montcalm County sheriff’s deputies arrested three teenagers a few days later in connection to the break-in — Ethan Hart, 17, and two juvenile males, all from Edmore.
The three youths were charged with breaking and entering, safe breaking, larceny in a building and destruction of property, all felonies. Court hearings are pending.
Montcalm County Undersheriff Mike Williams said cash and electronics were stolen from school and the Endeavor Center totaling more than $3,400. Some of the stolen items have been recovered.