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Woman accused of starting fires in North Lawrence had been turned away from camp, city staffer says

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Post updated at 5:02 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17:

A woman who allegedly started multiple fires in North Lawrence Wednesday night had been turned away from the city-run camp behind Johnny’s Tavern, according to city staff.

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After business owners and residents expressed concerns recently about the campsite becoming unruly, the city has stopped accepting new people.

The 19-year-old woman arrested on suspicion of setting the fires Wednesday was not an admitted camper at the city-run support camp, said Jenn Wolsey, homeless programs coordinator.

“She’s been homeless in Lawrence,” Wolsey said. “She had disappeared then showed up again.” 

Wolsey was out on Massachusetts Street last week when she saw the woman with one of the campers from the site. Wolsey told them she would like to check in with them after her appointment at Sunflower Bike Shop, but when she finished her errand, they were gone, she said. 

Just before 9 p.m. Wednesday, the woman had showed up at the campsite with a man who had stayed there until last Thursday (Nov. 10), when he was removed for trespass after allegedly assaulting another camper. The two asked to stay at the support camp, and Wolsey was notified they were trying to gain entry, she said.

Jennifer Adams, one of the camp residents, said that because they weren’t allowed to accept new people, she had told the two that there were no visitors allowed, and that he wasn’t supposed to be there.

“We aren’t taking anyone new right now,” Wolsey said. “We’ve been working alongside the community’s request to get to a more reasonable number out there.” 

As of Thursday morning, there were about 60 people staying at the support camp. 

The fires were reported at 9:09 p.m., according to Lawrence police — shortly after the two were rejected admission into the camp. Sgt. Drew Fennelly of the Lawrence Police Department said via email early Thursday that fires were reported at 1010 N. Third St.; 100 Riverfront Road; 725 N. Second St.; and 401 N. Second St., Johnny’s Tavern. There were no injuries. Read more about that in this article.

The woman was being held without bond and had not yet been charged as of Thursday evening, according to the Douglas County jail’s booking log.

All arrestees and defendants in criminal cases should be presumed not guilty unless and until they are convicted.

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Chansi Long (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, has a bachelor of science in mass media from Baker University and a master’s in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She’s been published in the Washington Post, River Teeth and Brevity. She was honored to be named Kansas Writer of the Year by the Winfield Arts and Humanities Council in 2016 for her essay “Lovesick.”

Read more of her work for the Times here.

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