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Accused arsonist says he was drinking, not taking depression medication

Christopher Syracuse, the man accused last week of setting several fires in one night in North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda, explained outside a courtroom Thursday what was behind his spree.

“I’m sorry for what I did,” he told reporters as he was led into City of Tonawanda Court for arraignment. “I was drinking and I wasn’t on my meds.”

The 26-year-old Tonawanda man said he had been on medication for depression.

A family friend, Peter James, who appeared at the arraignment, said Syracuse has been going through periods of depression for about 10 years. But the episodes of depression weren’t anything out of the ordinary, James said, adding that he didn’t know Syracuse was on medication.

“Nobody in the family ever said, ‘Hey, this kid really needs professional help,’ ” James said.

When Syracuse becomes depressed, he would “just be quiet, keep to himself” and “try to figure things out and deal with whatever the circumstance was,” according to James.

“I literally, literally, on God’s blessings, I cannot believe that he could actually do these crimes,” James said after the arraignment. “And most of the family feels the same way. This is not an animal, a crazy guy, or all those things that the public probably perceives. This is the kid next door. He’s always there for you. He’s quiet, has a good personality and good attitude.”

Syracuse is accused of setting seven fires over two hours, stretching three miles from North Tonawanda’s Meadow Drive to the City of Tonawanda. The fires were set in vehicles, garbage totes and a dumpster, and some spread to nearby homes.

Syracuse was arraigned on three felonies and two misdemeanors over the starting of one fire in the City of Tonawanda, in a vehicle on Enterprise Avenue. He was charged with a third-degree arson, two counts of fourth-degree arson and two counts of reckless endangerment.

Syracuse pleaded not guilty to the arsons.

Tonawanda Judge Joseph Cassata set bail at $50,000 and ordered him to appear again at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Syracuse appeared angry as police escorted him back to his seat.

He also was arraigned Aug. 7 in North Tonawanda Court on 11 felony and four misdemeanor charges.

The day the fires were set, police found surveillance footage from a building company near the Zimmerman Street fires, released the video to the public and received tips from people identifying Syracuse that day. Syracuse was arrested later that night, and police say he admitted he started the fires and acted cooperative.