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Penn Twp. man charged in Walmart fires

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A Penn Township man is accused of setting fires in a West Manheim Township Walmart, prompting a 12-hour closure and more than $3,000 in damage, according to authorities.

West Manheim Township Police said Gabriel Ray Hawley set two fires inside the Walmart at 1881 Baltimore Pike on Jan. 15.

Hawley, 19, of the first block of Pinewood Circle, is charged with four counts of recklessly endangering another person, two counts each of arson and aggravated arson and one count each of risking a catastrophe and criminal mischief.

Charging documents state Hawley set fires in the shoe department and the housewares section, which led to an evacuation of the store that night.

Four Walmart employees reported medical issues after the fire, according to police, who also said one of them had to be taken to Hanover Hospital by ambulance.

Fires: Police responded to the store about 7:10 p.m. that day after a report of a fire near the store's pharmacy, in the housewares department.

A store manager told police that about 6:50 p.m. she smelled burning in the area of the electronics department, according to officials. She found a shoe smoldering in the shoe department, and she dumped water on it, court documents state.

After dealing with the shoe fire, she was alerted to the fire in the housewares department. which led to the fire alarm going off and the store being evacuated, police said.

Police arrived to heavy smoke inside the store, along with the smell of fire extinguisher powder, officials said. Shelves with seat cushions were ignited in the housewares section, but the fire was put out with an extinguisher, police said.

The fire burnt merchandise and several shelves, and there was fire, heat, smoke and dry chemical powder damage seen in three aisles, according to authorities.

In the shoe department, police found paper stuffing inside one shoe that was set on fire, but the fire did not cause any damage to anything else in the aisle, charging documents state.

Investigation: Police viewed surveillance footage from the store and saw Hawley and two others standing by the section where the shoe was set on fire, officials said.

They were seen there about 6:20 p.m., according to police.

The three went to the electronics section, where Hawley punched a TV before leaving the store about 6:35 p.m., charging documents state.

The three then re-entered the store before 7 p.m., and footage showed Hawley go to the housewares section while the other two were in a different aisle, police said.

Hawley was seen walking into the housewares section a few times before meeting up with the others, documents state. Police said the three then left in a Mazda four-door hatchback.

A few hours later that vehicle was pulled over and police spoke to the owner, Brandon Palmer, who was with Hawley and a juvenile at the store that night, court documents state.

He said Hawley set fire to the shoe, and Palmer and the juvenile blew on the fire to put it out, officials said.

Palmer told officials that later he and the juvenile were in the electronics section when Hawley came over from the housewares section, charging documents state. 

There was an announcement about a fire in the store, and the three left, officials said.

"Palmer said when they asked (Hawley) if he started the fire and (Hawley) said it doesn't matter he is leaving for Virginia in the morning," Officer Craig Snyder wrote in charging documents.

Police said four employees reported injuries from smoke inhalation. One of the employees was taken to Hanover Hospital by ambulance and was treated and released, according to officials.

The store reported a loss of $3,100, court documents state. Police said the store was closed for 12 hours for investigation.

Hawley went to the police station but declined to be interviewed, according to officials.

Charges were filed on Jan. 22, and he was arraigned on the charges Tuesday, Jan. 29. 

He remains free on $25,000 unsecured bail, meaning he could forfeit up to that amount if he misses court proceedings.

A listed phone number could not be found for Hawley, and he does not have an attorney listed.

His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 21 at District Judge Jeffrey Sneeringer's office.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.