‘Any attack on a church … is an attack on us’
The Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Olympia was destroyed by fire early Tuesday, the second time since March that area fire crews have extinguished a blaze at 2225 Cain Road Southeast.
In March, the church was targeted by an arsonist, but that blaze caused limited damage. Tuesday's fire, which was reported about 3 a.m., destroyed the building, Olympia Assistant Fire Chief Rob Bradley said.
"The walls are still standing but that's about it," he said.
The building was unoccupied at the time of the fire. Lacey and Tumwater fire crews helped fight the blaze.
Asked if Tuesday's fire was arson, Bradley said that was still to be determined. However, based on what happened in March, he called the fire suspicious. A Kingdom Hall in Tumwater also was targeted by an arsonist the same month. A Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Yelm also was damaged by gunfire in May. The Thurston County Sheriff's Office and ATF later offered a $6,000 reward for information about the shooting.
"Let's put it this way, we wasted no time in calling the ATF," he said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the March fires in Olympia and Tumwater, and will investigate Tuesday's fire as well.
Olympia police said it was not known whether the March fire and Tuesday's blaze were related. However, local law enforcement plans to patrol other Kingdom Halls in the area.
In the March fire on Cain Road, video surveillance captured a man setting the church ablaze. Bradley said he hoped Tuesday's fire hadn't destroyed that video surveillance equipment.
Meanwhile, Olympia police interviewed a witness to the fire — a 28-year-old Seattle area man — who was wearing a "balaclava," or ski mask. He also initially refused to identify himself.
However, "he provided a statement in which he did not implicate himself," Costello said.
The man was later arrested on a state Department of Corrections warrant for violating the community custody terms of his release. The man has two prior convictions for second-degree assault and felony narcotics, Costello said.
Vance Walter, 73, of Monmouth, Oregon, was in town visiting his twin brother. He was asleep in the upstairs bedroom of his sister’s house near the Kingdom Hall when a noise woke him.
Walter looked out the window and saw the top half of Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses engulfed in flames. He then woke up his sister. The pair watched the blaze from the home as fire personnel fought the fire.
At about 3:20 a.m., Walter said he saw the entire roof collapse in on itself.
“It was a shock,” Walter said.
Walter noticed officials questioning an individual on the street adjacent to Kingdom Hall. Walter said the person had their identification out.
Lisa Jackson, 37, who also lives nearby, aid she was unaware of the fire until officials stopped by her house to ask questions Tuesday afternoon.
Jackson has lived at her home for about three years, but didn’t know about the previous arson attempt in March until questioned by officials. Jackson said there was no smell of a burning fire, nor did she hear any loud commotion Tuesday morning.
“They’re great neighbors,” Jackson said of the Kingdom Hall congregation. “I feel bad for them. That’s horrible.”