The personal impact of an arson spree in the city became abundantly clear Monday night.
A jittery collection of neighbors in Newberry packed the West End Christian Community Center to get answers from Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.
They also asked leadership of the police and fire departments about the status of the investigation now including 11 arsons within a six- to seven-block radius since April 4.
Williamsport Bureau of Police Agent Trent Peacock shows off a suspicious object that was found by a resident in his yard. He is urging residents to call police if they see or find anything suspicious.
They came to what Campana convened as a town hall meeting and were invited to air their concerns. They were given tips and suggestions how to make it more difficult for the crimes to be perpetrated.
"I'm frightened," said Kathy Dochter, of Poplar Street, who held nothing back. Another woman next to her claimed she sat up all hours of the night and is losing sleep.
Former city police chief Curley Jett said he believes the arsonist must be caught before further injury or something worse happens. "If we don't stop this person, somebody's going to die.
"There's no hard and fast way," Jett said. ... "He could be sitting here right now."
Police Agent Trent Peacock, lead fire and arson investigator, was joined by Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman, Bureau of Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach and Codes Administrator Joseph Gerardi.
"Call 911 right away," Peacock said, imploring the community not to delay, especially if they see suspicious activity. "Don't wait if you see someone suspicious or hear a dog barking at 2 in the morning until the next day to tell us."
Peacock and the others asked resident to please eliminate any potential sources of arson and to keep their lights on, or buy motion sensors.
"We need eyes, good witnesses," Peacock said. "If you see something suspicious, call 911. It might be nothing or it might be the bad guy."
Peacock called on watching for "anything out of place," and then held up a recently discovered wooden tongue depressor that had scorch marks on it. "It could be nothing more than kids playing with fire."
Police are using visible and non-visible means to capture the arsonist, Foresman said.
Campana encouraged use of as many lights as possible. "Flood this city with lights," Campana said.
He also indicated he will ask the federal government for additional grant sources to buy more surveillance cameras and said he wants to put them on the streets.
Gerardi has encouraged people to buy motion detectors for lights and set timers for devices inside the houses. "These devices cost a few dollars," he said, "but they might pay off."
Heinbach said properties need to be clear of debris or flammable materials. Gerardi took down addresses of some properties that residents report are not keeping up with that request.
A reward fund is being established by the Williamsport/Lycoming County Crime Commission, according to President Ron James and Vice President Rick Wyatt.
They said they are collecting reward money and will give $100 to anyone who provides information that leads to the capture and conviction of the arsonist.
"The reward fund is growing," Wyatt said. The commission telephone number is 326-9088. The city also has an arson hotline at 327-7575.