HOPE, AR (KSLA) - Police in Hope, Ark., say they have interviewed 2 persons of interest, both juveniles, in their ongoing investigation into the suspected arson and graffiti at a boyhood home of former President Bill Clinton.
Hope Police Chief J.R. Wilson said that the juveniles' connection to the case is undetermined at the moment and that his officers continue to chase down leads.
National Park Service rangers arrived at the site Friday to provide protection while federal arson investigators began their work, the police chief said.
The fire at the William J. Clinton Birthplace in the 100 block of South Hervey Street in Hope, Ark., broke out about 3:20 a.m. Friday.
The site was not open at the time. It closed at noon Dec. 24 for the Christmas holiday and had been scheduled to reopen at 9 a.m. Dec. 26.
Hope Fire Chief Dale Glanton says the fire was no accident.
"There's just evidence and signs that we do believe it was intentionally set. It will be investigated and handled as a potential arson fire."
The building is designated a National Historic Site. When firefighters first arrived, Glanton says, the back wall on the east side of the structure was on fire on the outside entry, spreading up through the walls and up to the second floor. They were able to douse the flames in a matter of minutes.
In addition to what Glanton described as "extensive damage" on the exterior of the house, there is smoke and water damage.
Among the evidence, according to Wilson, is graffiti on the sidewalk leading up to a door on the east side of the house, as well as on the door itself. Wilson said this is near where the fire appears to have initially been set, and that there was "a strong odor of accelerant."
The graffiti consists of the number 55 scrawled in black spray paint on the concrete walkway and what appears to be a frowning face with an "X" for each eye and a frown with a tongue sticking out. While the intended message isn't necessarily known, 55 can mean "ha ha" in texting shorthand.
The site is operated, staffed and maintained by the National Park Service. Its arson investigators are assisting with the inquiry.
"This is a very important structure and house inside the city of Hope," said Wilson. "It's got a lot of historical value to it and stuff here. And, like I said, it's a really historical piece of property in Hope. ... We really want to protect it and do the best job that we can do."
Other buildings on the property, including the National Park headquarters and gift shop, were not involved.
The house was owned by Clinton's grandparents. While Clinton was born at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, the house is where the 42nd president spent the first four years of his life with his widowed mother and maternal grandparents.
The structure became the nation's 33rd presidential site in March 2009. Two years later , it was designated as a presidential historic site.