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A collective sigh of relief

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By Jenny Hartley

It didn’t take long for word to get out Friday afternoon that someone had been charged in the courthouse and solicitor’s office fires.

As the news folks, county officials, law enforcement officers and firefighters gathered in front of the Municipal Justice Center for the second press conference of the day on Friday, the buzz was that the teenager charged with five recent armed robberies was also the suspect in the fires.

It seemed unbelievable. A 17-year-old responsible for burning two government buildings?

But a round of applause went up after Lancaster Police Department officers announced that the teen had also been charged in the fires.

It felt like six weeks of violence had come to an end.

I covered the courthouse and solicitor’s office fires. I covered the first armed robbery, at Gregory and Gregory law firm on West Meeting Street on Aug. 21.

Blue lights and yellow tape surrounded the law firm. A TV news station, which one would think had opened a satellite office in Lancaster to cover recent crimes, set up across the street from the law office.

“What’s going on in our little town?” Debbie Crenshaw, a downtown hair stylist, asked me as she took a walk on her lunch break that day. It felt like the smoke hadn’t yet cleared from the fires, and here was someone getting robbed at her workplace at midday. Who knew that the fires and that law firm robbery would later be linked to the same suspect?

After that came two robberies at the post office, on Sept. 4 and 11. In one incident, the robber ordered a man to the ground and threatened to blow his head off.

Downtown workers went on alert last Thursday, after a woman was shoved into the trunk of her car at Elizabeth Ann Interiors and Gifts. A couple days before that, a man was ordered at gunpoint to get into a Dumpster at Founders Federal Credit Union so the robber could steal his van and wallet.

Employees at The Lancaster News followed a buddy system of leaving the building together on Thursday. The halls of the news office were abuzz with nervous adrenaline over the latest crime, which turned from a robbery to a kidnapping. Fortunately, the woman was able to pry herself out of her trunk with a garden spade.

Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like there was more activity on Main Street, after Friday’s major developments on the cops beat. I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

“There has been so much traffic down here this afternoon,” said Fran Gardner, who stopped by her studio space at Chastain’s Studio Lofts.

Cars rolled by bumper to bumper on Main Street, windows open, radios blaring, almost as if in celebration. On Friday evening, a night that hinted at fall with a cool breeze and golden sunset, it felt like Lancaster breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in six weeks, it felt safe to be outside.