The 49-year-old Brooklyn man arrested for allegedly setting a huge Christmas tree outside the FOX News building in midtown Manhattan ablaze, creating a wild scene and scaring people, allegedly told investigators, "I have been thinking about lighting the tree on fire all day long," according to a criminal complaint released Thursday.
Craig Tamanaha was taken into custody at the West 48th Street and Sixth Avenue scene just after midnight Wednesday and arraigned late that night on a bevy of charges, including second-degree criminal mischief, a felony, second-degree reckless endangerment and fifth-degree arson, according to the complaint.
The latter two charges are misdemeanors.
According to the criminal complaint, Tamanaha allegedly entered a restricted area in front of the FOX News station, where the huge Christmas tree was located. It had just been lit for the season this past weekend. A witness said he and Tamanaha were the only two people in the restricted tree area for 4 minutes, from 12:10 a.m. to 12:14 a.m. Wednesday. The witness said the tree lit up after Tamanaha went in.
Police officials said the fire, which was deemed incendiary by fire marshals, caused an estimated $500,000 in property damage in addition to unnecessarily frightening anyone who happened to walk by as the stunning scene developed.
No injuries were reported, but FOX News Media CEO Suzanne Scott blasted the incident as a "malicious arson attack" in a company-wide email sent Wednesday.
It wasn't immediately clear how the fire was set, though authorities allege a lighter was recovered from Tamanaha's pocket at the time he was taken into custody.
Videos posted by witnesses to the Citizen App showed thick clouds of black smoke coming from the artificial tree after the fire was lit.
It's not clear why Tamanaha allegedly set the blaze in the first place, but police had said the fire didn't appear to be premeditated or politically motivated. They believe he acted alone.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday that Tamanaha is known to the department and has a series of low-level out-of-state arrests, possibly from cases stemming out of Texas, and drug-related offenses. He is also believed to be homeless.
"He was issued earlier this year some appearance tickets and didn't come back to court, which is something we see all too often," Shea said. "I think it's one where he's working alone. It's all very fresh. It's probably a little preliminary to say what the motivation was. Was mental illness a factor? We're looking at all of that."
Tamanaha was released from jail pending his next hearing after the arraignment. He is being represented by Legal Aid, which doesn't typically comment on current cases. An email request for comment was not immediately returned.
The FOX News building on Avenue of the Americas just celebrated the Christmas tree on Sunday. It was filled with 10,000 glass ornaments, 100,000 lights and it took over 21 hours to put together. Crews had to take down the charred remnants.
In a company-wide memo, Scott said it was fortunate there were no injuries and that all employees working at the time of the blaze stayed safe. She thanked the FDNY and NYPD for their roles in extinguishing the fire and apprehending the suspect and vowed that Wednesday's action would not deter future celebrations.
"The 50-foot tree, which was just lit in a beautiful on-air ceremony on Sunday night, was engulfed in flames and smoke permeated the building," Scott wrote. "This has become a new wonderful tradition on FOX Square over the last three years. We will not let this deliberate and brazen act of cowardice deter us."
Scott said FOX News is working to install a new tree "as a message that there can be peace, light and joy even during a dark moment like this" and will hold a lighting ceremony for that new tree Thursday evening.