Columbia Man Sentenced for Arsons at MU and Stephens College
A Columbia, Mo., man was sentenced in federal court today (Jan. 23) for two arsons that caused more than $1 million in damages to the Ellis Library at the University of Missouri–Columbia and a building on the Stephens College campus in Columbia.
Christopher Curtis Kelley, 27, of Columbia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips to six years and six months in prison without parole. The court also ordered Kelley to pay $591,114 in restitution.
On April 24, 2013, Kelley was found guilty of two counts of arson. Evidence presented during the trial indicated that Kelley deliberately set fires at 10 different locations inside the Ellis Library, which is the main library at the University of Missouri, at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 10, 2011. Some of the fires didn’t take or caused minimal damage, while other fires caused significant damage. Kelley also used a metal pipe to destroy and vandalize property at the library, including computer monitors, security cameras and windows. Human feces and urine were found on top of one of the study desks.
The overall cost to repair the damage to the library was estimated between $750,000 and $1 million. Cleanup costs alone have amounted to $531,294, and property loss amounts are still being determined. As a result of the fire, university faculty, staff, students, and the public in general suffered a major disruption in services. Employees lost personal possessions and were displaced while repairs were made. Users were denied access and services for a total of 43 lost hours. Reference services were unavailable for 35 hours. International student instruction classes were cancelled. Library staff spent numerous hours moving bottom shelves of reference books away from damaged and wet floors.
In addition, the Ellis Library building houses the Missouri State Historical Society, which serves as the repository for books, maps and other documents with historical importance. That area of the library suffered extensive water damage as a result of the fires. Property damage to that area was separately estimated to be between $60,000 and $75,000. The Society was completely closed to the public for three days following the fires. Society employees put in thousands of hours packing, cleaning, moving and rearranging work space as the Society was renovated. Members of the public were unable to conduct research, and many individuals who had traveled to conduct research were turned away. Five staff members, whose desks and computers were water-damaged, had to pack up their work areas and move across campus to be housed in temporary work space for approximately four months. Additional staff members had to be relocated for several months due to the damage. Tens of thousands of journals and periodicals had to be boxed up and relocated because of renovations required from the water damage, and countless staff hours were expended drying original, primary-source documents. Each page/sheet had to be individually dried with blotting paper to save the documents and prevent the formation of mold. Approximately 1,000 hours were spent taking down, repairing and replacing the art/exhibit panels that were in the corridor gallery.
The Ellis Library also operates a federal documents repository, which suffered major disruption as a result of the arson.
Photos taken from the library’s security cameras were distributed to the media and the college community. Law enforcement officials received several telephone calls in response from individuals who identified Kelley. At about noon on the same day as the arson, Kelley turned himself in to the University of Missouri Police Department.
During the investigation into the Ellis Library arson, law enforcement officers recovered stolen computer equipment at Kelley’s residence that had been taken from Stephens College during an earlier arson on that campus.
Kelley was also convicted of starting a fire in a classroom of the Audrey Webb Child Study Center on the Stephens College campus at approximately 4 a.m. on May 18, 2011. The Audrey Webb Learning Center is an educational facility, providing a laboratory to train students to become educators.
Kelley broke into the school and stole a computer after starting the fire. The building sprinkler system malfunctioned; however, firefighters quickly responded to the alarm and extinguished the fire before the entire structure burned. There was moderate smoke damage in the basement area directly below the classroom. Damages to the Audrey Webb Child Center amounted to $54,819.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Lynn. It was investigated by the University of Missouri Police Department, the Columbia, Mo., Police Department, the Columbia, Mo., Fire Department, the Stephens College Security Department, the University of Missouri Ellis Library Security Department, the U.S. Department of Education and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.