FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, July 15, 2019
Pennsylvania Man Indicted on Attempted Murder and Arson Charges for Allegedly Setting Fire to Rabbi’s Brooklyn Home
Fire Destroyed Victim’s Midwood Home and Severely Damaged Two Adjacent Properties;
Video Surveillance Allegedly Captured Defendant Setting the Fire
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that a 41-year-old Pennsylvania man has been arraigned on an indictment in which he is charged with first-degree attempted murder, second-degree arson and related charges for intentionally setting fire to the home of a Brooklyn rabbi. The fire quickly spread to two adjacent houses, injuring 11 people, including a six-week-old infant, four first responders and two police officers.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant allegedly traveled to Brooklyn with the sole intent to kill and had no concern for the dozens of people he deliberately put in harm’s way. Thanks to our firefighters and first responders, no one was seriously injured in this fire. I intend to prosecute this case vigorously and hold this defendant accountable for his alleged crimes.”
The District Attorney identified the defendant as Matthew Karelefsky, 41, of McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He was arraigned today before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Martin Murphy on a 17-count indictment in which he is charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree arson, second-degree attempted murder, and related charges. He was ordered held without bail and to return to court on September 10, 2019. The defendant faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the top count.
The District Attorney said that, according to the investigation, on June 13, 2019 at approximately 3:50 a.m., a rabbi at a local yeshiva and his wife awoke to a fire in their three-story multi-family home at 1492 East 17th Street in Midwood. The fire spread to homes on either side of the property, causing 13 residents, including a six-week-old infant, to evacuate. Numerous individuals were treated for smoke inhalation.
Fire marshals determined the fire at 1492 East 17th Street was intentionally set and that it spread to the adjacent properties. Investigators also determined the fire began underneath the rabbi’s front porch, where K9 dogs identified the smell of an accelerant and fire marshals discovered remnants of a Kingsford charcoal bag, charcoal, a plastic milk carton, empty lighter fluid containers, lighter boxes and several rags believed to have been drenched in accelerant.
Video surveillance taken from across the street from the victims’ homes allegedly shows the defendant setting the fire. Additionally, video surveillance from a Midwood grocery store captured the day before the incident allegedly shows the defendant purchasing Kingsford charcoal and matches.
Police arrested the defendant in Manhattan on June 15. At the time of his arrest he was wearing a pink shirt with a white collar—a shirt he was allegedly seen wearing walking near the victims’ homes before and after the incident. It is alleged that the defendant has a tattoo on his forearm that reads, “Never let go of the HATRED – KILL Rabbi Max”. He also allegedly wrote numerous social media posts expressing his animosity for and intention to harm the victim.
The case was investigated by New York City Fire Department Marshal Stewart Hines.
Intelligence Analyst Alexandra Aber, of the District Attorney’s Crime Strategies Unit and Paralegal Supervisor Aneudy Mata, of the District Attorney’s Green Zone Trial Bureau, assisted in the investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Sara Kurtzberg, Deputy Chief of the District Attorney’s Green Zone Trial Bureau and Assistant District Attorney Aaron Fishkin, also of the Green Zone, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney James Lin, Bureau Chief.
An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.