Southeastern PA

Man charged with July 2013 arson near Downingtown

Michael Norley Jr. of Lancaster County already jailed for trying to kill uncle

WEST CHESTER, Pa. - A 29-year-old Lancaster County man has been arrested for setting a Chester County building on fire and spray-painting it with racist graffiti more than a year ago.

Charges were filed Tuesday against Michael Norley, Jr., of Lititz.

Norley already is in prison, charged with trying to kill his uncle, one of the building's owners, with a hammer.

"This defendant was out for destruction and chaos at any cost," said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan in a news release.

"This defendant engaged in extraordinarily reckless behavior. He tried to burn down a building. He tried to inflame racial tensions with graffiti."

The arson occurred on July 14, 2013 at Pro Signs just outside Downington. The district attorney reported Norley also spray-painted graffiti at the site, including "Kill Whitez" and "Kill Zimmerman" -- a reference to George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin in a nationally publicized case.

When emergency personnel responded to the fire about 11:30 p.m. at Pro Signs at 251 Boot Road in East Caln Township, numerous fires were found in the building, including several in and around a 1947 Studebaker pickup truck that was prized by the owners of the business.

Local fire departments extinguished the blazes, but they caused about $375,000 in damage.

The Chester County Fire Marshal determined the fires were arson, set by putting gasoline in plastic Gatorade bottles.  It also was determined the fires had been set by someone familiar with the physical layout of the business.

Investigators learned Norley is the nephew of three brothers who own Pro Signs. They also learned he was a former employee "who had significant animosity toward the company," based on ongoing workman's compensation litigation.

The defendant also sent a suspicious text to one of the owners shortly after the fire.

Norley has been charged with arson, burglary, recklessly endangering and related offenses.

On Aug. 20, Norley was arrested for attempted homicide.  He is accused of dressing as a ninja on Aug. 19 and attacking his uncle, one of the owners of Pro Signs, with a hammer, repeatedly striking him in the head. He already is in jail for that attempted homicide.

During the follow-up to that arrest, Chester County detectives determined he also was responsible for the earlier arson at Pro Signs and that he spray-painted the racially inflammatory graffiti in an attempt to mislead investigators into thinking the arson was racially motivated.

On Aug. 20, the same day he was arrested for trying to kill his uncle, Norley confessed to police that he committed the crimes at Pro Signs.

"Any arson endangers both innocent civilians and the fire fighters responding to do their job," said Hogan. "Arsonists have no regard for property or the value of human life."

Anyone with more information about the case should call Chester County Detective Joseph Nangle at 610-344-6866.

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