Special Agent in charge of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' National Response Team, Jeffrey Fulton, would not comment on the specifics of how or where the fire began in Columbia Music Hall Theater during the midnight hours of Nov. 11.
“This is a criminal investigation, and it's ongoing. This is just the beginning of that criminal investigation,” Fulton said. “The next step is, we're continuing to talk to people, continuing to look at investigative leads. We have a number of investigative leads we're following up on.”
He said once it became a criminal investigation, authorities were required to obtain search warrants to continue their investigation of the property, which is owned by Christine Scott and was managed by Lee Scott.
“That's standard protocol. So, we got a search warrant only allowing us to take what we had on the scene off with us as evidence. All the rumors of arrests being made, or a device being found, all of those are completely false,” Fulton said.
Neither Lee nor Christine Scott attended the news conference. When Lee was called at his home on Saturday, Christine took the call, saying only that she had no comment at this time.
Fulton said the building was expected to be released back to its owner by later Saturday afternoon. The city engineering department also is expected to be in on Monday to inspect its structural stability.
“We are finished with the scene in a little while. At that point, it really is up to the insurance company, owner and city authorities to determine what needs to happen to that building,” he said.
ATF Special Agent in charge from the Columbus Field Division, Christopher Sadowski, has committed local ATF special agents to continue the investigation with Portsmouth Police and Fire Investigators, and the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshal.
“The fire department needs to be applauded for their efforts to keep the fire from extending to the nearby businesses. That could have easily turned into a much larger tragedy than it is,” Fulton said.
Portsmouth Police Chief Charles Horner reciprocated the praise for Fulton and ATFE.
“We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for coming in and assisting on an investigation that ... if we were to accomplish it, it would take substantially more time,” he said.