(JTA) — The New York Police Department has ruled out a suspect in at least six recent fires in a heavily Jewish neighborhood of Queens.
The fires, which are believed to be arson attacks, were set over the past month in Forest Hills and have damaged homes owned by Bukharan Jews that were under construction.
The NYPD said it identified the suspect after cracking a code in a note the arsonist left for police at the scene of the most recent fire, on Nov. 25. The note instructed police to “decode this message to find the person who caused the fire.”
The message directed police to a resident of the neighborhood, who detectives then determined had nothing to do with the arsons, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told WABC-TV. The potential suspect was able to account for his whereabouts during the fires and he has no prior arrest history, according to the New York TV station.
“The lead has now turned into a mislead,” Boyce said.
A suspect dressed all in black reportedly appeared on surveillance video on Nov. 17.
The fires, some of which have spread to neighboring homes, have not injured anyone.
Forest Hills and its environs are home to an estimated 35,000 Bukharan Jews, who hail from the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
New homes built by Bukharan Jews, usually after tearing down existing homes on the property, have been a subject of controversy for many years, with some longtime residents claiming that the new houses are oversized, showy and not in keeping with the neighborhood’s aesthetics.