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NYPD: Group Of Boys Caught Lighting Jewish School Bus On Fire Could Be Linked To Other Hate Crimes

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Investigators believe a group of boys who set a school bus on fire in front of a Jewish school in Brooklyn could be linked to other hate crimes.

CBS2's Ilana Gold reported the NYPD is looking into three possible hate crimes in the Crown Heights neighborhood.

An 11-year-old boy, who police said was the mastermind, is facing hate crime charges as police continue to search for several boys wanted for torching an empty Yeshiva school bus.

"They got the ringleader which is important," school bus driver Nachman Zeskind said.

It happened around 6 p.m. Sunday after the driver dropped off a group of students at the Bnos Orthodox Jewish School for Girls on Brooklyn Avenue.

The entire incident was captured on surveillance video.

Investigators said a group of boys between the ages of 11 and 15 are seen going onto the unlocked, empty school bus with cardboard. Shortly after, flames appear in one of the windows and then a second fire starts near the driver's seat.

The boys take off just as the smoke and flames begin to engulf the bus. The video then shows one of them coming back on a bike and taking a picture, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reported.

"Cleary it was a religious school bus, anybody in that community knows that. That this was a private yellow bus used for a religious school nearby, so that was what was our feeling with that," NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. "Clearly it was a religious school bus, clearly it's an attack on the school itself."

"The age of these kids, they're young children," said Binyomin Lifshitz, Shomrim neighborhood watch spokesman. "Where are they getting this from? What's teaching them to do such things?"

"I've been around here 33 years, never ever have we had any type of incidents like that toward one another," said longtime resident Randolph Witherspoon.

"That's sad for their age, it's really sad," said resident Belisha Bernard. "This makes you often wonder where are the parents what are the parents doing?"

"Bad behavior, bad choices hopefully they get the help they need cause it's not acceptable," resident Kim Lomuto said.

So far, an 11-year-old boy has been arrested and released to the custody of his mother. He is expected to face a judge in family court.

The boy has been charged with arson and criminal mischief, both as a hate crime, but some question whether hate was the motive or if it was a random juvenile prank.

"These kids should be held accountable to the fullest, but I don't think it was a hate crime," one woman said. "These buses are parked out here three, four buses at a time every day. They should be in a garage, locked."

"I wouldn't just jump the gun of it being a hate crime unless they put some sort of message out there of hate," said Tim Riehl, who works nearby.

Police are still looking for five other boys in connection with the incident.

Brooklyn School Bus Fire Suspects
Five people wanted in connection with setting fire to a school bus in Brooklyn (credit: NYPD)

Detectives said the group could be linked to an incident seven blocks from the bus fire on Thursday afternoon.

Police said someone launched a brick at a Yeshiva school bus as it drove down Eastern Parkway. Pictures show the shattered mirror from the impact and red brick on the ground. There were no kids on the bus when it happened.

"This is more than a huge violation," Rabbi Shea Hecht said.

Last Friday, police said a Jewish man walking in the same area got targeted when someone threw rubber bands, rocks and a stick at him. When the man confronted one of the teen perpetrators, they allegedly punched him in the face. One suspect was taken into custody.

"We're on high alert and we're told they're on high alert," Hecht said.

The bus will remain at the scene until arson investigators finish looking into the case.

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