A pre-dawn fire engulfed a Jehovah’s Witnesses worship center near Olympia, Wash., last week, the fifth deliberately set blaze targeting the denomination in the area in nine months.
The series of arson attacks, which investigators believe are related, began in March when fire was set to Kingdom Halls in Olympia and the close-in suburb of Tumwater on the same day. Four months later the Olympia Kingdom Hall was set ablaze again, destroying the building this time.
In August, a Kingdom Hall in Yelm, about a half-hour drive from Olympia, was burned. Earlier this year that same building was peppered with nearly three dozen rifle rounds, causing $10,000 damage.
Jason Chudy, public information officer for the Seattle office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said no one has been charged in the crimes, though surveillance video has captured footage of a suspect.
“At this point, until we’re able talk to a suspect to determine what the motivation was, it’s hard to determine if these are hate crimes,” said Chudy.
There are approximately 33,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Washington state and 163 Kingdom Halls, the denomination’s name for its worship centers.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses work hard to be a force for good in their community, so violent acts like this are difficult to comprehend,” David A. Semonian, a U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said in an email.
Though saddened, local Witnesses say they’re grateful no one has been hurt and agree that buildings can be replaced. All of the attacks have occurred before dawn.
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Source: Religion News Service