Teen center leader's car torched, house destroyed

Police are investigating an arson attack on this Shepton Street home last Thursday. Photo by Pete Stidman.

Paulo DeBarros was mum on Friday as he helped teens move furniture around in the newly remodeled St. Peter's Teen Center, where he is director.

"I've got other stuff to do," he said. "The police are doing their work and the fire department is trying to find out what happened."

Normally a man of few words, DeBarros spoke these while holding back emotion.

The morning before, on Nov. 20, he and his wife and child had awoken just before 2 a.m. to find their car afire. Parked where it was next to the house, it wasn't long till the flames curled up and began consuming their single family home at 23 Shepton St.

As the family watched from across the street, two fire companies rushed to the scene and brought the fire under control in a few hours, but much of the front of the house was destroyed, some $100,000 in damage, according to the fire department, and the family's Acura gutted. Investigators ruled the fire arson, set first in the car.

"I heard the explosion," said Natasha Thomas, who lives a few doors down the street. "It sounded like a gunshot, but it was the car. They had nine or ten fire trucks all in here. I went back to bed about 4 a.m. and they were still trying to put the fire out."

Some neighborhood sources said threats received earlier contributed to the arson ruling, but DeBarros would not deny or confirm that account, nor would Steve MacDonald, BFD spokesman.

"Paulo is safe and healthy and we're wrapping our arms around him the best we can," said Bridget Ryan-Snell, marketing director for Catholic Charities, which runs the teen center. Director Vivian Soper did not return requests for comment.

"We're here in this shaky world today," said Elias Montiero. an organizer from Dorchester Bay EDC who has known DeBarros for years. "You have to expect the unexpected. You get the good but you also have the evil trying overwhelm the good. If you're going to do what's right, you can't let people intimidate you."