Authorities say someone left a device made to look like an explosive outside a Kingdom Hall in Yelm on Wednesday, the latest in a series of attacks on area Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Thurston County Sheriff’s deputies were called to the Kingdom Hall at 15012 Vail Road Southeast at about 7:30 a.m. for an attempted arson. Church officials found fire logs stacked up against an outside wall that were smoldering. They were able to put out the logs and there was minimal damage.
They then discovered a suspicious item that appeared to be an explosive device on the ground on the west side of the building, according to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.
A Washington State Patrol bomb squad responded, along with members of a task force investing the attacks that includes Olympia police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.
The device turned out not be an explosive.
“It’s very concerning for us that we have this going on in our community,” Chief Dave Pearsall with the Sheriff’s Office told reporters. “We’re going to do everything we can to find out who’s responsible for it and hold that person accountable.”
A Kingdom Hall in Olympia was destroyed by an arson fire in July. In March, the same building was set fire, but that blaze caused limited damage.
That same month, officials say, a Kingdom Hall in Tumwater also was targeted by an arsonist.
In May, someone fired multiple rounds into the Yelm Kingdom Hall, causing more than $10,000 in damage.
Last month, officials announced a $36,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest and conviction in connection with these crimes. At a press conference announcing the reward, Darek Pleasants, special agent in charge of the ATF division in Seattle, appealed to the public for help.
“It is only a matter of time before one of these incidents escalates into an injury or fatality in our community,” he warned.
Investigators said they were searching for a man who was seen purchasing fire logs at the Fred Meyer in Tumwater on May 29. The logs were the same brand used in the July 3 fire that destroyed the Kingdom Hall in Olympia.
Another fire last week at a Kingdom Hall in Lacey was deemed not suspicious. In that case, crews determined a ceiling fan triggered a fire in a closet, according to Lacey Fire District 3.