Burned-out tenants in Lewiston return to find items stolen

LEWISTON — Nearly a week after a fire rendered their apartment at 279 Pine St. temporarily uninhabitable, Krystal Johnson and her children were ready to move back in.

Andrew Cullen/Sun Journal

Krystal Johnson plays with her nearly 2-year-old son, Josiah, in the kitchen of their apartment at 279 Pine St. in Lewiston on Wednesday night. Johnson and her three sons returned to their home Wednesday, eight days after an electrical fire forced them to leave. The unit is habitable again, but some work remains to be done, including placing ceiling tiles to cover the hole visible above Johnson's head.

Electrician John Pape of Turner does renovation work in an apartment at 279 Pine St. in Lewiston. Pape is preparing the unit for the return of tenants who have been forced to stay at hotels since an electrical fire caused significant damage on Nov. 1. Tenants moved back into one of the building's three apartments Wednesday, but the other units will take slightly longer to complete.   

But first, she had some bad news for her children: Within a few days of the fire, someone had broken into the home and stolen many of the belongings left behind.

The Nov. 1 electrical fire forced firefighters to tear down walls to find the source and caused significant smoke damage. Johnson's family and two other families retreated to hotel rooms provided for three days by the American Red Cross, and then by their landlord, Paul Soracco. The burglary and thefts were reported to police Saturday morning.

“Not only was it the people who lived there, it was the people who were doing construction to renovate the building,” who were victimized, Lewiston police Lt. Mark Cornelio said.

He said police have a list of 21 items that were stolen from two of the building's three apartment units, including televisions, toys and power tools.

When Johnson heard about the thefts, she came back to the apartment to find it in shambles, with drawers spilled out onto the floor. Even the cover of her Bible had been torn off.

“Anything I had of value, except for the televisions, is gone,” She said. It was immediately apparent that her smaller electronics had been taken, but in the days after the burglary, she discovered that other items, including baby gates and infant soap, were missing, too.

“Some of the stuff they took was just unbelievable,” she said. “It's just discouraging.”

Although Soracco had locked up the building, “the thief found a hole that was a result of the fire and was able to gain access that way,” Cornelio said.

All fire victims are vulnerable, said Red Cross Emergency Services Director Eric Lynes. Fire-damaged homes are often too unsafe for residents to enter, leaving them stranded without whatever belongings may have survived.

The Red Cross helped the 13 people — including nine children — displaced by the fire to find immediate shelter and begin the process of recovery. Lynes said Tuesday he had been unaware that they were further victimized by thieves. “It's devastating, isn't it?” he said.

Johnson was able to move back in Wednesday, thanks in part to the diligent work of Soracco and the team of contractors he hired to repair the building. He thought it was important to help his tenants however he could, he said, having lost his own home in Turner to a fire in 2007.

People told him he didn't have to help his tenants pay for hotel rooms when the Red Cross stopped. "I know I don't have to do that," he said in frustration.

But neighbors helped him when his house burned, he said. “If everybody would just ... ,” he paused, struggling to find words. “It's like that cliche, 'What a wonderful world it would be.'”


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Bob Wright's picture

This is your legacy Mayor

This is your legacy Mayor Larry. There is no way you can blame this on the Governor LePage.


People don't care anymore. what was fun to share and have a good time with is now don't let anyone see what you have or it might get stolen. people are greedy, and selfish, and lazy. People turn the other way when someone needs help because they think that person is just lazy. But what they don't understand is they may have been victim to a fire, job loss or other disaster and maybe they weren't elegible for help. I've been there. I was living in florida but my job, and apt fell through. I had no money for food, shelter or anything. So I went to apply for temporary assitance, cash, foodstamps etc.. Well I was denied food stamps because I didn't have a 40 hr a week job. Well if I had a 40 hr a week job I wouldn't have needed foodstamps! Of course things have changed a little bit but not much. This is the season of giving. If everyone in the usa would give one dollar to everyone who needs it we would all be rich. Think about it... 7 billion people x 1.00$ equals 7 billion. I would be willing to give someone 1 dollar as opposed to 100.00?

Libby St Pierre's picture

more than angry

This state is becoming a disgrace. A sense of Entiltlement is everywhere. "you snooze, you loose" seems to be the motto of most. Where I have worked, thats 90% of the customers mentality. Im am so angry those tenants' items where stolen. To be victimized twice, c'mon ppl! Big hugs to Krystal whom I have known since she was a baby, and the rest of the residents. WHEN these ppl are caught, I'm sure there will be plenty of us ready to throw stones.

Wilma Turcotte's picture


Nothing is sacred anymore and getting worse all the time. My heart goes out to this family. Anyone that thinks it wasn't turned into cash for drugs is in a dream world. No one steals to feed their family anymore as food stamps are so readily available. Drugs, cigarettes or just to deprive you of it is the name of the game nowadays.


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