THURSTON COUNTY -- Who’s targeting Jehovah's Witness churches in Thurston County? That’s the question investigators are trying to answer after two Kingdom Halls were set on fire early Monday morning.
Surveillance video appears to show a man, bundled up in a jacket, with a hood over his head, walking up the sidewalk toward the Kingdom Hall in Olympia just before 8:30 a.m. Monday. Investigators believe he’s carrying a gallon of gasoline in each hand.
A second surveillance camera shows the man pouring liquid next to the side of the church and moments later, there's a giant flash of fire and he runs off.
The Olympia Fire Department shared photos from the scene.
And members are hard at work cleaning up the aftermath. It’s one of two suspicious fires being investigated as arson in Thurston County. The second fire was reported just a half-hour later and 15 minutes down the road at the Kingdom Hall in Tumwater.
Fire Chief Scott LaVielle says two elders arrived Monday morning and saw the smoke. They grabbed this garden hose and called 911.
“After the Olympia Fire Department arrived, too, they were coming back from the previous arson, when they arrived. They just had a fire at a Jehovah's Witness place and we started putting both of these things together and went, wow, looks like these are connected,” says LaVielle.
While investigators say they doesn’t know why the two Jehovah’s Witness places of worship were targeted, they are handing over all their evidence to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
“ATF has jurisdiction when it comes to church fires. That was effective in 1996 when a lot of the churches were being burned in the South,” says LaVielle.
Inside the Tumwater facility, LaVielle estimates $15,000 in damage.
“I feel bad for them. I feel sorry that this happened and my hopes are that it’s something we can get to the bottom of real quick,” says LaVielle.
The Olympia Fire Department estimates the damage at the facility there to run upwards of $50,000.
Fortunately, no one was inside either building when the fires were started.