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“It’s very suspicious” — Puyallup assembly hall fire may be the latest in a string of arson cases

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PUYALLUP, Wash. -- A fire at The Assembly Hall of Jehovah's Witness in Puyallup early Tuesday morning may have been the work of an arsonist, according to investigators.

Both local and federal detectives are now working to determine the cause of the fire that happened at the worship facility on 62nd Avenue in Puyallup.

Investigators say this latest fire may be connected to a string of arson cases last year at several Kingdom Halls across the South Sound.

A black charred wall at the Puyallup Assembly Hall is now the focus of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms investigators after flames ignited there around 2 a.m. Tuesday.

Detectives say there are some obvious red flags in this case.

"It's very suspicious," said Jason Chudy with the ATF. "It’s very similar to a number of the incidents that happened in Thurston County last year."

ATF investigators say this latest case now makes for a total of 7 active criminal investigations where Jehovah's Witness facilities have been targeted by fire or bullet holes across the South Sound.

Since March 2018, incidents have happened at Jehovah's Witness facilities in Tumwater, Lacey, Olympia, Yelm, and now Puyallup.

"There are a lot of people who may have misinterpretations of what we believe or don’t understand what we believe, but Jehovah's Witnesses are peaceful, loving people," said Kelcey Kleinman, a congregant of the Puyallup assembly hall.

Kleinman says this latest fire is raising concerns among congregants.

"It is worrisome of course for all those that meet at the different kingdom halls in the area. I’m sure it causes stress and anxieties they hadn’t had before," Kleinman explained.

ATF investigators say the fire at the assembly hall on Tuesday would have been much worse had they not had a working sprinkler system in place.

They're now reviewing surveillance videos to see if they caught a glimpse of whoever is responsible.

Congregants of the assembly hall say they're just thankful no one was seriously injured. Meanwhile, investigators want whoever is responsible placed behind bars before these crimes escalate.

"They need to get help," Chudy said. "They need to turn themselves in to law enforcement; they need to get the help they need."

A total of $36,000 is now being offered by several agencies for information that leads to an arrest for whoever is responsible for the previous attacks on kingdom halls across Thurston County last year.

If you have information on any of these cases you're told to contact the ATF's tip line at 1-888-ATF-TIPS or send them an email ATFTIPS@atf.gov. You can always remain anonymous.

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