From actual ashes, a new Kingdom Hall will rise for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the South Sound — a new house of worship where an old one burned.
In July 2018, a Kingdom Hall was torched and destroyed, one of several incidents that sent fear through the community.
Now, a new community of hundreds of volunteers from across the region and country are working on a new hall.
“It doesn’t remove all the past tragic events — it does provide a nice new focal point,” said Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesperson Erik Larson.
Roughly 300 congregants called the old building home. It has been a sacred journey to get here.
“For many of them, that was their house of worship for so many years,” said Manuel Torres, a member of Washington Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Now that that’s not available to them, hasn’t been available to them for almost five years now, it’s a long time coming.”
For years the Jehovah’s Witnesses lived with arson and attacks on Kingdom Halls.
In March 2018, a suspect was caught on camera setting fire to a Kingdom Hall on Cain Road in Olympia — one of two suspected arsons at that time in Thurston County.
Two months later, a Kingdom Hall in Yelm was sprayed with gunfire.
In July 2018, the same Olympia hall that was targeted by an arsonist was destroyed by fire.
In December 2018, another hall was burned and destroyed in Lacey.
In August 2019, yet another hall was hit with a suspicious fire in Puyallup.
It wasn’t until October of this year that a suspect was indicted by a federal grand jury. Mikey Diamond Starrett was charged with several counts — the 50-year-old from Olympia is accused of shooting up the Kingdom Hall in Yelm in May 2018.
Some fear subsided with the charges, replaced with a more hopeful future.
The rebuilding of the Olympia hall was delayed by the pandemic but is moving forward fast. In July 2023 it should be finished, and one place lost in a stream of violence will be restored.
“For people of faith, whenever you take away a place where they can meet, you are kind of ripping something out of them,” said Torres.
“It’s just been incredibly unifying, wholesome, productive — really a joyous atmosphere on site,” Larson said.
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