After at least 70 fires since the start of 2008, the Coatesville cops have a seventh suspected arsonist in custody. This time, it’s one of the city’s firefighters. A cause for relief? Hardly—the arsons have continued despite previous arrests, as well as the best efforts of the Chester County Arson Task Force. Why are some depraved Coatesville residents intent on burning their city to the ground?
This harrowing Philadelphia City Paper story provides some much-needed insight for those of us who only know Coatesville as Rip Hamilton’s hometown. The place doesn’t seem likely to give Disneyland any competition in the “Happiest Place on Earth” sweepstakes. And the city’s decline has fostered a certain eschatological mindset among its despondent denizens:
Until recently, Falaq ran a day care center. She had to shut down when some of the mothers got laid off. Struggling to find work, she reached out to various churches and charities, everyone but the welfare system, for help. But she couldn’t get any until she produced an eviction notice — physical proof of her desperation. Coatesville, she says, has tolerated its own desperation — the drugs, the shootings, the decay — for a long time. The families who’ve been burned out didn’t deserve it, of course. But spiritually, she wonders if the town needed this.