The Whispering Pines Motel smolders after being razed by an arsonist.
Accomack County on Virginia's Eastern Shore is a quiet, mostly agricultural corner of our region, but in recent months, police and firefighters there have been grappling with a string of arsons — more than 70 in all since November. In the past week alone, a 19th century schoolhouse, an abandoned hotel, and a former restaurant have gone up in flames. Coastal Connection reporter Bryan Russo recently spoke with Accomack Public Safety Director Jeff Terwilliger, who says there's a definite pattern to the incidents. Following are highlights of their conversation.
On what the common thread is: "I think one of the common threads is certainly they've been vacant... and they're sporadic... one of the unique treads of that is that all of the structures have been within the county."
On how challenging the situation has been for the county's police and volunteer fire department: "The geography of the county certainly makes it difficult — a lot of remote locations, a lot of structures that sit off the road to make them potentially easy targets for someone who wants to do harm. From a law enforcement standpoint, certainly we're confident that it's just a matter of time before we find this individual. And the commitment is to hold to them accountable and bring them to justice. From a public safety standpoint, we're primarily a volunteer workforce, and I think that we need to understand what the challenges of that are. The commitment from our volunteers has been extraordinary."
On what people in the community are feeling: "It's a sense of anxiety I see, not so much fear, but anxiety, that look... we need to get this person. We need to hold them accountable, and we need to return this community to normal."
Listen to the full conversation here.