A transient man is facing felony charges for criminal mischief after he intentionally set a nativity scene on fire in Elmira.
It’s a traditional piece during the Christmas holiday, and it represents Jesus Christ’s place of birth.
The nativity scene in Wisner Park, part of the blueprint of Elmira’s downtown, caught fire at around 1:30 Tuesday morning and has since been removed by the fire department.
All that remains are blackened areas of burnt grass and a small replica of a nativity scene who many believe was left by a resident as a sign of hope.
The culprit behind the blaze is 24-year-old Daniel Peterson-Green who first told officers he accidentally started the fire with a cigarette, but further investigation revealed that he intentionally lit a cash register receipt on fire, threw it on the ground, and then let it set a bale of straw on fire.
He fled the scene without notifying authority. City officials say what happened is ironic.
“When you think about the story of the nativity, it’s all about Mary and Joseph going and not having a place to stay,” Chemung Canal Trust Company Senior Vice President Michael Wayne said. “Well, unfortunately, that same situation occurred to a young man in our community last night. We’re certainly not condoning what happened, but it gives us a point in irony to think about that this continues today.”
The city is holding an event next Friday and encouraging donations of clothing items when they unveil the new nativity.
“At the same time, give, because we are a very giving community,” Elmira Downtown Development Executive Director Jennifer Herrick-McGonigal said. “I think we want to encourage people to give coats and blankets and hats and mittens and everything we can give to charities in our communities that give these items out.”
As for replacing the nativity, Christmas is less than three weeks away, and the city is working on a temporary solution with area churches. For next Christmas and beyond, its asking school groups and local organizations to participate in the building, designing, and purchasing of contents for the new nativity scene.
Peterson-Green was first arraigned at Elmira City Court and is currently behind bars at Chemung County Jail.
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