Reward offered in arsons at Jehovah's Witnesses halls

VIDEO: First look at man police say set fire to Jehovah's Witness Halls across the South Sound

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The ATF and local authorities are offering thousands of dollars of reward money after a series of fires were set and gunshots were fired into Jehovah Witnesses Kingdom Halls this month in what are being called hate crimes.

So far, no one has been hurt. But ATF officials think it is inevitable that someone will be injured or killed if the suspect is not found.

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Four attacks on halls believed to be related

Authorities said there have been four attacks on the halls, all in Thurston County, in the last four months. Because of their proximity to one another, the incidents are believed to be related.

Two arsons happened on March 19 -- one at a Tumwater Kingdom Hall and the second at the Cain Road Kingdom Hall in Olympia. Both fires were started on exterior walls in a similar manner.  At that time, Olympia police released surveillance video of the arsonist setting the fire at the Olympia hall, in the hopes that someone would recognize him, but no arrests were made.

A third incident took place on May 15 when someone fired about 35 rifle rounds into a Kingdom Hall in Yelm. Damage was estimated to be more than $10,000.

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The fourth incident, another arson, occurred again at the Olympia hall on Cain Road on July 3. Security footage from the July arson was released by investigators at a Wednesday morning news conference, as were still photos of a man described as a person of interest, as well as a vehicle of interest, in the case - believed to be a 2017 Jeep Renegade or similar SUV.

The four-minute surveillance video showed a masked man in a hooded sweatshirt setting a fire against the building. At the end, a ball of fire erupts before the man flees.

Suspect may have changed behavior: What to look for

ATF officials said they believe incidents were meant to send a message and were committed by a suspect or suspects with some sort of grievance related to the Jehovah Witnesses community or some other issue they think is important.

According to authorities, before the fires were set, those involved were likely  to  have  shared  their  strong  feelings  with  others and may have had changes in their behavior in the hours and days since the fires, including:

  • Dramatic and unexplained altering of physical appearance (growth or removal of facial  hair, change in hair color or cut, etc.)
  • Change in normal routines or habits, which might include missing work, classes or  previously scheduled appointments
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Intense interest in the status of the investigation

“It is inevitable that innocent people will be injured or killed if these incidents go unchecked,” said Seattle  Field Division Special Agent in Chargef, Darek Pleasants. “We take events at houses of worship very seriously and are appealing to those who live in and around Thurston and the surrounding counties to partner with us in protecting their communities in this investigation.”

$36,000 in rewards offered 

ATF is offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible.

The Arson Alarm Foundation is offering a reward from their annual $10,000 reward pool and the Thurston County Sheriff's Office is offering up to another $1,000 through Crime Stoppers of South Sound, making the total possible reward up to $36,000.

What to do if you have information

Anyone who has information about the fires or shooting is asked to call the ATF’s free hotline at 1-888-ATF-TIPS (283-8477), Crime Stoppers of South Sound at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or the Arson Alarm Foundation at 1-800-55-ARSON (27766).

People can also submit a tip through ATF's "report it" app available at www.reportit.com or at Google Play or the Apple App Store. All tips are confidential and can be anonymous.