17-year-old arrested in Lancaster fires

Police have charged a 17-year-old with two counts of arson for burning the historic Lancaster County Courthouse and the solicitor's office in August – as well as the kidnapping and carjacking of a 70-year-old woman on Thursday – police announced Friday afternoon.

Martavius Semaj Carter, 17, of Lancaster was arrested late Thursday and charged with two counts of kidnapping, four counts of carjacking and five counts each for armed robbery, possession of a pistol during a violent crime, and other weapon charges.

Lancaster City Police say they recovered a .45-caliber pistol believed to be used in the robberies, as well as keys, IDs and other items belonging to the robbery victims. Carter lived with his grandparents and had been convicted of second-degree burglary as a 16-year-old but was placed on probation.

At the time of the Aug. 4 torching of the 180-year-old courthouse and Aug. 7 burning of the solicitor's office, Carter was facing additional burglary charges from March.

Lancaster City Police Chief Hugh White announced the arrest at a 2:30 p.m. news conference. He gave few details about events leading to Carter's arrest.

Lancaster residents had speculated that perhaps a suspect had been attempting to destroy records or evidence relating to an ongoing court case.

“No one knew for sure, but it only made sense that whoever set those fires was trying to destroy something,” said Rudy Carter, chair of the Lancaster County Council.

Thursday's kidnapping and carjacking of the woman at 9 a.m. on North Main Street was a shockingly bold crime, police said.

The woman had gotten out of her car and was walking to her job at a gift shop when a man with a gun demanded her purse and told her to get in her car. She refused and tried to get away, and the robber tackled her and threw her into her car trunk. He abandoned the car in nearby woods, and she was able to use a garden tool in her trunk to escape.

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis was in Columbia Friday when he was called and told of the arrest.

“The courthouse is fully insured and can be replaced, and that's good,” Willis said, “but those fires were a turning point for Lancaster. We've lost that sense of security that you sometimes take for granted living in a small town.”