Laurel Mayor Craig Moe said the community will not allow a spate of playground arsons to intimidate it, and backed up his words with a Community Fun Day on March 28 at one of the three affected parks.
“We want you to know the parks are your place. The parks are safe. We’re going to make sure they stay safe,” Moe said to the 50-plus parents and children who attended the event at Discovery Park, adding that Laurel police have increased patrols at all city parks.
“Although there was destruction here, we’re going to make sure that we repair it, replace it, and that the kids come back in a safe environment. This is their park,” Moe said.
Police continue to investigate the March 3 playground fire at Discovery Park and a March 11 fire at Emancipation Park on 8th Street, which completely consumed both playsets, said Laurel spokesman Pete Piringer. Both are being investigated as arson, and the city is offering a reward of $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
Investigators believe the two incidents may be related, Piringer said.
“The police have gotten some pretty good leads,” he said.
A small fire on March 8 at Granville Gude Park near Laurel Lakes led to the arrest of two teenagers. The juveniles were charged with crimes related to the incident and released to the custody of their parents, Piringer said.
The fire caused only minor damage, not requiring replacement of the playset, and may not be related to the other two fires, Piringer said.
No one was injured in the fires, Piringer said.
Councilwoman Donna L. Crary (Ward 2) said it was important to show the community that the parks are still safe.
“Some of the kids have been afraid to come out,” she said.
The Community Day featured games, activities and costumed characters. Members of the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department were also present, distributing fire safety materials and information.
The new Discovery Park playset is expected to arrive within the next two weeks, said Parks and Recreation Director Mike Lhotsky. It will then take approximately 10 days to get it installed, he said.
Both destroyed playsets, totaling more than $250,000 in damages, were covered by the city’s insurance, minus a $5,000 deductible for each, Lhotsky said.
Larry Brown, a Laurel parent who frequents the park with his 11-year-old daughter, said he was angered by the fire.
“It’s ridiculous. There is no gain for any individual to burn down a playground. It’s just stupid, and I hope it stops,” Brown said.
Laurel parent Melissa Siebert said she has lived in the neighborhood since 1993, and has often visited the park.
“It’s really upsetting,” she said. “When it happens three times, it really makes you nervous.”
Laurel Council President Frederick Smalls urged anyone with information to contact Laurel police at 301-725-3000 or Prince George’s County’s arson hotline at 301-772-7766.
Lhotsky said the new playground at Emancipation Park may be in place by summer.
A Community Fun Day was scheduled for March 26 for Emancipation Park but was canceled due to inclement weather. It will be rescheduled in the next couple of weeks, Moe said.