A man who police believe paddled a canoe from Maine to New Hampshire with a propane tank and a bucket of flammable liquid has been charged with setting fire to a New Hampshire middle school as part of a two-day crime spree last month.
Christopher Berger, 24, used a car, the canoe and a skateboard and was incapacitated with a stun gun by police during the crimes alleged to have occurred on May 22-23 in the New Hampshire towns of Portsmouth, Newington and Rye before being arrested by Portsmouth police on Monday. He made bail or was released by police at least twice, according to news reports.
In the most serious crime he is charged with, Berger, who is believed to suffer from mental illness, paddled a canoe from Kittery and allegedly caused about $100,000 of damage to the Portsmouth school on May 22. He is accused of smashing a front glass door, placing the propane tank inside, dousing it with a flammable liquid and setting the tank on fire, according to the Portsmouth Herald.
The spree began when Portsmouth police alleged that Berger threw a wooden bat through a glass window at a sandwich shop from a speeding vehicle on May 22. He allegedly failed to stop for Portsmouth officers pursuing him in a car chase during which he allegedly forced another driver into a guardrail, then crashed himself. He ran from the vehicle to a Macy’s parking lot in the nearby town of Newington where he was shot with a stun gun and arrested, according to the Herald.
After he was released on bail, Berger went to Kittery, from where he canoed to Portsmouth and allegedly lit the school fire. After setting the fire, Berger paddled the canoe to Hampton where he had an encounter with police there, who confiscated the canoe. Berger went to Rye, where he rode a skateboard and allegedly smashed a glass and stole a bottle from a seafood restaurant on May 23 before being released by police, according to the Herald.
Berger was arraigned in a New Hampshire court on Tuesday on charges including arson, burglary, criminal mischief, aggravated driving while intoxicated and disobeying an officer, the Associated Press reported.
Berger’s attorney, public defender Deanna Campbell told the court that Berger was struggling with mental health issues during the alleged crimes. Not guilty pleas were entered for him. The judge found Berger to be a danger to himself and others and ordered his preventative detention until he can be transferred to a secure psychiatric facility, according to the Herald.