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Activist admits setting BYU fire

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Harrison David Burrows

Harrison David Burrows

An 18-year-old man has admitted to setting fire to an animal science facility on the Brigham Young University campus on behalf of a militant animal-rights organization, according to court documents made public Monday.

Harrison David Burrows appeared Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court on one charge of destruction of property by fire and a second count of use of a destructive device during the commission of a crime. Combined, the charges carry a minimum 35-year prison sentence and a maximum 50-year term.

The July 8 fire caused an estimated $30,000 damage and was the third attack on the facility since May. In all three incidents, perpetrators left behind spray-painted messages indicating they were involved with the Animal Liberation Front, a loosely organized ecoterrorist group.

Although law enforcers would not call Burrows a terrorist on Monday, FBI assistant special-agent-in-charge Kevin Fryslie did say the agency is dedicated to fighting terrorism of all types.

"Terrorism is the FBI's No. 1 priority," he said. "We want to make sure that we aggressively go after individuals that are responsible."

According to charging documents, Burrows told an FBI agent he and another man entered BYU's Ellsworth Farm in the early morning hours of July 8 carrying several plastic containers of combustible fuel. Burrows said he poured the fuel on large cardboard bales in a recycling area of the farm, documents state, and then lit the material with a match.

Burrows also allegedly told investigators he called a local television station and claimed responsibility in the name of ALF.

No one else has been charged in the July 8 fire or the two previous incidents at the farm, during which several rabbits and birds were removed from the facility, BYU vehicles were damaged, tools stolen and graffiti spray-painted throughout the area.

The BYU fire came just three weeks after a three-alarm blaze at a West Jordan lumber yard, which is also believed to have been set by an ecoterrorist organization. Members of the Earth Liberation Front have claimed responsibility for that fire, which caused approximately $1.5 million in damages.

Fryslie said Monday investigators have no information connecting Burrows to the June 14 blaze at Stock Building Supply.

BYU Police Chief Larry Stott on Monday praised the prosecution against Burrows, saying he hoped it would stop the attacks on the farm. As part of the university's College of Biology and Agriculture, Stott said, the farm houses llamas, goats and rabbits used in "basic feed experiments" that do not harm the animals.

"It really does not make a lot of sense to attack that area," he said. "Animals are not being mistreated there."

According to documents, a BYU police officer questioned Burrows and another man at the scene of the fire. Burrows told the officer he and his roommate stopped to watch the fire, and he gave police his birth date and address.

Investigators searched the address Friday, two weeks after the fire, and found a tool identical to one taken from the farm, animal-rights literature and a bird cage identified as one taken from the farm the night of the fire, documents state.

Burrows will be back in federal court Thursday afternoon for a detention hearing and arraignment. He will remain in the Salt Lake County Jail until then.

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com