Washington state police are investigating a series of suspected arson incidents they believe are the latest in a series of attacks targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Authorities responded to a fire Friday morning that decimated a Jehovah’s Witness hall in the city of Lacey. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that the fire was intentionally set. While no one was injured, the building was damaged beyond repair, and authorities believe the fire to be the latest of a total of six attacks against Jehovah’s Witness places of worship in Thurston County. (RELATED: Police Investigate Four Alleged Anti-Semitic Attacks In NYC In Less Than A Week As Hanukkah Begins)
“It’s devastating for the whole congregation,” Dan Woollett, one of the ministers who helped build the hall in 1975, told to K5News.
BREAKING: A fire has destroyed the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Lacey. This is the SIXTH attack on Kingdom Hall’s in Thurston County since March. Five fires, one shooting. pic.twitter.com/J8Ss9BW0Qv
— Alex Rozier (@AlexRozierK5) December 7, 2018
Jason Chudy, spokesperson for the ATF’s Seattle branch, told The Huffington Post that the attacks were likely “meant to send a message.”
“We believe that the suspect or suspects has or have a grievance related to the Jehovah’s Witness community, or about another issue they think is important,” Chudy said. “Before these fires, the person or persons involved are likely to have shared these strong feelings with others through comments and conversation.”
Whatever the intended message, Woollett said it won’t keep his congregation from meeting and worshiping.
Arson damaged Jehovah’s Witnesses halls in Tumwater and Olympia in March, the latter of which was targeted again by arson four months later and destroyed. Investigators also found a fake bomb in a hall in Yelm in August, which they determined to be another attempt at arson, and in May, an unidentified person shot the Yelm hall 35 times with a rifle, causing $10,000 worth of damage.
“It makes you feel really ill,” Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza said about the attacks, according to K5News. “How frustrating is it that people who find a solemn place of worship, and now it’s being destroyed?”
The ATF and Thurston County Police are investigating the incidents and have offered a total of $36,000 in rewards for any information that leads to an arrest in connection with the attacks. The ATF advised that the person responsible may have altered their physical appearance in a major way, have inexplicable injuries, and exhibited extreme changes in routine and behavior leading up to and during the attacks.
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