Multiple attacks on houses of worship belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in western Washington state are likely linked, federal officials say.
There have been seven separate attacks on the worship buildings, traditionally called Kingdom Halls, in Thurston County, Washington, since March 2018, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Seattle.
The attacks have included six instances of arson, two of which completely destroyed Kingdom Halls in Olympia and Lacey. In another incident, a suspect or suspects shot about 35 rifle rounds into a Kingdom Hall in Yelm, causing over $10,000 in damage.
No one has been hurt in these incidents, but officials are concerned.
“It is inevitable that innocent people will be injured or killed if these incidents go unchecked,” Darek Pleasants, an ATF agent in Seattle, said in December after a fire destroyed a Kingdom Hall in Lacey.
A video from The Olympian shows the aftermath of an arson attack at the Lacey Kingdom Hall in December.
The FBI announced Friday that it was adding $25,000 to the reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible. Combined with other sources, the total reward for information is currently $61,000.
Since the attacks took place at Jehovah’s Witnesses buildings located close to each other, officials believe the incidents are related and meant to “send a message.”
“We believe that the suspect or suspects has or have a grievance related to the Jehovah’s Witness community, or about another issue they think is important,” the ATF said in its statement on Friday.
HuffPost has reached out to the denomination for comment.
The latest attack was arson that caused minor damage at a Jehovah’s Witnesses worship space in Puyallup on Aug. 13. Erik Larson, a local spokesperson for the denomination, said that the assembly hall suffered some internal smoke damage. Over 100 volunteers stepped up to help repair the damage, Larson said.
“It is to say the least disconcerting, troubling certainly, but it’s not surprising given the world we live in,” Larson told The News Tribune. “It does not embitter us, we’re certainly not deterred to gather peacefully to learn how to be better people.”
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