A federal agency is investigating a fire at a Jehovah’s Witness assembly hall in Puyallup early Tuesday in connection with five other fires in Thurston County from 2018.
Erik Larson, northwest local spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said within hours of the fire, more than 100 volunteers were on site to help repair the damage and do smoke remediation.
“It is to say the least disconcerting, troubling certainly, but it’s not surprising given the world we live in,” Larson said. “It does not embitter us, we’re certainly not deterred to gather peacefully to learn how to be better people.”
Larson said the assembly hall suffered some internal smoke damage, but should be OK for use this for their program at 9:20 a.m. this Friday. The program is free and open to the public.
“We will be vigilant and cautious, but we value the times we have to get together,” Larson said. “We’re moving forward and we’ll certainly be circumspect.”
Jason Chudy, spokesperson at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said this is the seventh separate potentially criminal incident in the past 16 to 17 months regarding the Jehovah’s Witness faith.
Central Pierce Fire & Rescue received a call around 2 a.m. about a fire outside the Puyallup assembly hall, 11515 62nd Ave. E. An exterior sprinkler system was able to keep the flames down until they arrived on scene. According to a report by KOMO, the fire left some scorch marks and damage on an exterior wall. No one was injured.
According to an ATF Rewards Notice from December 2018, there were five attacks on Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls in Thurston County since March 2018.
On March 19, 2018, there were two arson attacks which left minor damage, one at a Tumwater Kingdom Hall and another at a Kingdom Hall on Cain Road in Olympia. Other arson attacks were in July and December, which destroyed the Olympia Kingdom Hall on Cain Road and the Lacey Kingdom Hall on 6th Avenue Southeast.
Chudy said the cases are believed to be connected given the similarities in the way that the fire was started.
Another incident occurred May 15, 2018, where an unknown suspect or suspects shot a Kingdom Hall in Yelm with about 35 .223 rifle rounds, causing more than $10,000 in damage.
Chudy also said ATF does not currently have a lead on a suspect, but asks the public to submit tips. He said the suspect has most likely made dramatic changes in their appearance and may have burn marks. Chudy said they may also have changed their routines or habits, and will have an intense interest in the investigation.
People can submit tips to ATF by phone by calling 1-888-ATF-TIPS or by sending an email to email@example.com