Crime and Courts

Chief investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.
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Pennsylvania Man With Apparent Grudge Indicted for Allegedly Setting Fire to Rabbi's Brooklyn Home

The flames ended up engulfing nearby homes and led to 11 people suffering injuries, including first responders and a 6-week-old baby

What to Know

  • 41-year-old Pennsylvania man was indicted on charges related to intentionally setting fire to the home of a Brooklyn rabbi, prosecutors say
  • Matthew Karelefsky was arraigned Monday on a 17-count indictment in which he is charged with attempted murder, arson and other charges
  • The June fire spread to nearby homes and resulted in 11 people suffering injuries, including first responders and a 6-week-old baby

A 41-year-old Pennsylvania man was indicted on charges related to intentionally setting fire to the home of a Brooklyn rabbi that ended up spreading to two adjacent houses, ultimately injuring 11 people, including a 6-week-old baby, four responders and two police officers.

Matthew Karelefsky, of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, was arraigned Monday on a 17-count indictment in which he is charged with first- and second-degree attempted murder, second-degree arson and related charges, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced.

Karelefsky was ordered held without bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 10.

Karelefsky faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted. Attorney information for him was not immediately available.

According to prosecutors, on June 13, at around 3:50 a.m., the rabbi and his wife awoke to a fire in their three-story multi-family home on East 17th Street in Midwood. The fire subsequently spread to homes on either side of the property, causing 13 residents, including a 6-week-old infant, to escape, prosecutors say, adding that people had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

It took firefighters nearly three hours to get the fire under control. 

Fire marshals determined the fire was intentionally set. 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 charcoal bag, charcoal, a plastic milk carton, empty lighter fluid containers, lighter boxes and several rags believed to have been drenched in accelerant, prosecutors say.

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 Karelefsky 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.

Prosecutors say he also had an alleged tattoo on his forearm that reads, “Never let go of the HATRED – KILL Rabbi Max”. He also allegedly wrote social media posts expressing his animosity for and intention to harm the rabbi.

“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,” Gonzalez said.

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