HAVERHILL — The mystery of who set the fire next to Haffner's gas station this week has been solved, police said.
Investigators said the people who set the fire also broke into several cars and stole various items, including a GPS and a cell phone.
Two teenage boys who ran away from a group home near City Hall are charged with the crimes, police said. The boys, ages 16 and 13, were arrested at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Deputy Chief Donald Thompson said the boys ran away from the group home three times. Detective Glenn Fogarty investigated and arrested the suspects at the 20 Newcomb St. home known as Phoenix East. It is behind City Hall.
The Eagle-Tribune is withholding the boys' names because of their ages.
The boys are charged with setting fire to what police said appeared to be a makeshift shelter built by a homeless person between the gas station and Little River, just off Lafayette Square. The fire broke out just after noontime Monday, police said.
Police at the scene initially speculated a homeless person might have started the fire to keep warm. Fogarty's investigation led to the two boys, however.
The boys also broke into three cars that were kept in an enclosed area on Hale Street that is used to store vehicles that have been towed, Thompson said. The boys stole a GPS, an MP3 player, a cell phone, a Dunkin' Donuts gift card and loose change, he said. Hale Street is near the Haffner's station.
Counselors at the group home helped solve the case by reporting the boys as runaways and then picking up on certain details when the boys returned to the home, Thompson said.
"The staff noticed items they (the boys) shouldn't have had," he said of the stolen items.
The two boys appeared in Lawrence Juvenile Court yesterday. The court will decide what to do with them.
Team Coordinating Agency, a local organization, has operated a drug and alcohol treatment program at 20 Newcomb St. since 1971. The rehabilitation program treats 12 boys between the ages of 12 and 17. The boys are recommended for the program by the state Department of Social Services, which pays for their care.