Fire in Ellis leaves damage, shuts down building

The fire occurred early Saturday morning, and the suspect turned himself in later that day.
Ellis Library is closed as workers and machinery enter to repair water and fire damage from Saturday's 3 a.m. fire. MU Police Department employee Christopher Kelley was arrested later that day for starting the fire.

A fire set in Ellis Library early Saturday morning shut the building down for the weekend and Monday. The library will reopen with limited access at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The fire occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning, causing fire and smoke damage in the library’s first floor and leaving water damage in other areas.

Police arrested Christopher C. Kelley, an MU graduate and events assistant with the MU Police Department, at 11:58 a.m. Sunday after he turned himself in to MUPD.

The Columbia Fire Department responded to the fire through notification from one of the library’s automatic fire alarms. Automatic fire sprinklers controlled the fire until firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames.

The north entrance’s Circulation and Reserve Desk strongly smelled of smoke during a tour of the library Monday afternoon. Carpets and ceiling panels in the north side of the library were torn out due to water damage.

A damage estimate is not yet available, said Julie Rogers, assistant head of security for Ellis Library.

“Other than water damage from the sprinklers, damage to the library was minimal,” MU spokesman Christian Basi said. “We were pleased with the response to the situation. Crews have been in the building since Saturday morning cleaning and preparing the library to open as soon as possible. We know that this is an invaluable resource for students, faculty and staff.”

Library surveillance cameras captured a dark haired male walking into the library. No one else was in the library at the time of the fire, Rogers said.

“Due to security methods that were already in place, we were able to identify a suspect very quickly,” Basi said.

The photo was later released to the MU campus and surrounding community, and Kelley turned himself in shortly after.

“He was an events staff person with us,” MUPD Capt. Brian Weimer said. “He worked move-in and a football game. He has worked at the job about a month. We had calls from the community identifying him to turn himself in.”

Kelley was arrested on suspicion of second-degree burglary, second-degree arson, two counts of second-degree tampering and seven counts of second-degree property damage, according to a news release.

Officials are still investigating how the suspect entered the library.

“A small broken window on the fourth floor occurred the same evening,” MU Library spokeswoman Shannon Cary said. “We can’t say if it was the suspect or not.”

Library staff is working to accommodate those affected by the fire. Employees with offices that were damaged by the fire are being temporarily moved to the northwest side of the library, Cary said.

“Fines will be waived for any days the library was not open,” she said.

The State Historical Society of Missouri, which sustained water damage, will reopen Wednesday.

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