A possible hate crime is under investigation after a fire was set at a Central Florida church, where vandals also spray-painted “Allahu Akbar.”
The incident happened around 3 a.m. Monday at the New Shiloh Christian Church in Melbourne on Sarno Road. About 1,500 members attend the church.
Melbourne police said officers and firefighters discovered the blaze after a fire alarm sounded. Arson was the expected cause, police said.
Fire sprinklers helped contain the flames to a storage unit connected to the 125,000-square-foot building.
The words “Allahu Akbar” were spray-painted on the storage unit. “Allahu Akbar” is an Arabic phrase typically translated as “God is great” and is a common expression used in various contexts.
A swastika was also scrawled on church property.
“To find something like that in 2015 is unbelievable. It’s just disheartening,” said New Shiloh Christian Church Bishop Jacquelyn Gordon. “They told us that this is definitely a hate crime and that they’re going to patrol our area even more and just look out for us and they thought it was senseless and I feel the same way.”
Police have not confirmed to Local 6 that the case is being investigated as a hate crime, but say they are investigating the fire and vandalism as arson and criminal mischief.
“I would just say that everything is being looked at. All avenues are going to be explored. If it meets that criteria, that would be something that would be looked at,” said Lt. Cheryl Trainer.
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