LACEY, Wash. – It’s happened yet again – a local house of worship burned down overnight and investigators are calling the fire suspicious.
It’s also the sixth time this year a South Sound Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall may have been targeted: Some buildings have been torched, another riddled with bullets.
Investigators are trying to determine if those previous incidents are related to the fire that destroyed Lacey’s Kingdom Hall early Friday morning.
Most of the congregation we talked to didn’t want to talk on camera, but this latest incident is already bringing people together – we saw people bringing food for first responders as a way of saying thank you.
The house of worship is a total loss -- firefighters say when they got on scene the flames were so strong they had to immediately begin a defensive attack.
Smoke and flames roared as parts of the Kingdom Hall in Lacey collapsed to the ground.
“It’s devastating for the whole congregation,” said Dan Woollett, an elder.
Wollett says he helped build the place of worship back in 1976. He’s thankful nobody was hurt.
“It’s devastating for sure but you know it’s just a building. Everybody’s safe and that’s the important thing,” he said.
A neighbor made the first call to 911 around 345 this morning.
Officials can’t say for sure how this fire started but they are calling it suspicious.
“Makes you feel really ill about somebody who has some sort of animosity towards any religion,” said Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza.
This incident is the sixth time a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall may have been targeted in the south sound.
Officials say houses of worship in Olympia and Tumwater were deliberately set on fire in March
Then in May someone shot dozens of rounds into the Kingdom Hall in Yelm.
In July, the Olympia Kingdom Hall was torched again.
Then in August, someone tried to burn down the Kingdom Hall in Yelm.
Last summer investigators released images of a person of interest they’re looking to interview seen buying fireplace logs at a nearby Fred Meyers.
“Yes, we are still looking for the person, we’re actively looking to solve the previous crimes and we’re also looking for citizens to come forward with any information they might have,” said Jonathan Blais from the ATF.
For now, the local Jehovah’s Witness community remains on edge until federal and local investigators narrow down and make an arrest.
“More or less they’re terrified,” said Snaza. “Why are they being targeted? Why is this specific religion being targeted?”