Guilty plea in series of Coatesville arsons

WEST CHESTER, Pa. - September 17, 2010

It was January 2009 when fire engulfed Fleetwood Street. More than a dozen families were forced from their homes in the biggest blaze in a string of arsons in early 2009.

20 months later, a few of the damaged homes are repaired or on the way, but nine at the center of the block are condemned and owned by the city.

In a courtroom 15 miles away, Barlow pleaded guilty to setting Fleetwood and 8 other arsons resulting in $2.7-million in damages.

"Leaving a number of people homeless, injuring a number of firefighters, and just, as a number of people said, terrorizing a community," Chester County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco said.

Tina and John Thomas are one of the families battling back. They are aided by Good Works, a faith based group. The Thomas's plan is to have Thanksgiving dinner at their rehabbed home.

Barlow was sentenced to 12½ to 25 years in prison and 10 years of probation.

"He deserves what he gets, I hate to say it, I hate to sound like that," Tina said.

The question of forgiveness resulted in different responses from victims.

Mrs. Thomas said it will take time, but she will eventually be able to forgive Barlow.

Victim Robin Johnson is struggling with the question.

"How could you forgive someone that actually attempted to murder you? I just can't do that," Johnson said.

Victim John Wenger says so many of his Fleetwood Street neighbors had so little and lost everything.

"The reason I have a hard time forgiving him is for what he did to those good people," Wenger said.

The motive of why Barlow did it is still an unanswered question for the victims.

In an interview shortly after his arrest, Barlow's family said that he has a learning disability and would not have set the fires unless he was egged on.

In the next 30 days, it is expected the 9 city owned homes will be torn down.

After that, there are hopes to entice a developer to rebuild, but given the economy that is only a hope.

Coatesville was plagued by dozens of arsons in 2008 and 2009, causing millions of dollars in damage leading to curfews and the deployment of an arson task force to the Chester County town.

Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.