The ongoing mystery behind a series of fires in 2012 targeting the practice of traditional Ojibwe religion on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation may finally be on the way to resolution.
Christopher A. Grover, 42 a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe in Wisconsin was charged on November 18 with nine felony charges of arson and six felony charges of criminal fire damage in the July 14, 2012 fires that destroyed religious structures, a home and several other structures on the LCO reservation.
Grover is currently being held in the Sawyer County jail under a $10,000 cash bond and, scheduled for a preliminary hearing on January 23, 2017. (A preliminary hearing set for November 29 was canceled; Grover has since fired his attorney according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.)
The fires, that clearly targeted religious structures such as the historic Big Drum House, Big Drum Dance Ring, two sweat lodges and the business and home of Paul DeMain a longtime journalist in LCO and follower of traditional spirituality, terrorized the small North Wisconsin community. Set over the span of a few hours in the middle of the night, the fires set members of the reservation on edge.
ICTMN published a story examining the events surrounding the fires and the sometimes-strained relationship between local evangelical Christians and those who follow traditional Ojibwe religion.
According to the November 2016 criminal complaint against Grover most of the fires were on “property related to the traditional religious practices of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe, specifically the Midewiwin religion.”
In the Statement of Probable Cause section of the complaint, investigators describe how Grover’s stepfather, Jeff Crone, told them that the defendant (Grover) stated to him that he “believed that a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe’s traditional religion, the Midewiwin belief system had put a curse on the defendant before the fires. Crone also testified that the defendant had shortly before the fires became a “born again” Christian in the Lac Courte Oreilles Assembly of God Church.”
A witness reported seeing Grover fill a gas can with gas at the LCO Quick Stop gas station and drive off without paying on the night of the fires. Investigators reported that the fires were “incendiary” in nature and noted that the soil in many fire locations tested positive for gasoline.
The complaint also described a July 15, 2012 meeting between Grover and Sawyer County Sheriff Mark Kelsey and LCO Tribal Police Chief Tim DeBrot. DeBrot and Kelsy met Grover at the Crone home and noted that he had singed hair on his forearms.
Grover was arrested shortly after the fires in 2012 as “a person of interest.” No charges were filed, however, until November 2016. Shortly after his 2012 arrest, he was turned over to authorities of a neighboring county for jumping bail on unrelated charges.
According to the Sawyer County Record, Grover was recently serving time in the Washburn County Jail after his probation was revoked in relation to convictions of being party to a burglary, taking and driving a vehicle without the owner’s consent and theft.
Attempts to reach Grover or his counsel by ICTMN for reactions to the charges have been unsuccessful. He is expected to enter his plea at the hearing in January.
DeMain was interviewed by ICTMN shortly after the fire that destroyed his RV, his main residence at the time and was clearly shaken by the malicious intent of the crime. He described how he had suddenly decided to go to a nearby pow wow on the night of the fires, a decision that very likely saved his and his grandson’s lives (the boy frequently slept at DeMain’s RV).
Although Grover has recently been in jail, DeMain noted that he had seen him in the community for quite awhile after the fires.
The reason why authorities took so long to charge Grover was a mystery to DeMain.
“Sometimes it takes a long time for the wheels of justice to bear fruit,” he opined.
“I hope his (Grover’s) arrest brings some peace of mind to those who were traumatized at the time. The fires were an attack on the whole community,” he said.