Investigators trying to identify the arsonist who torched a Florida mosque where Orlando mass murderer Omar Mateen once worshipped have gotten just eight tips from the public — and none of them have panned out.
“This is very disheartening,” Major David Thompson of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday outside the fire-damaged Islamic Center of Fort Pierce. “Regardless of your personal beliefs, this was a place of worship.”
Thompson implored the public to call the police if they know anything about the fire.
“Somebody knows who did this,” the major said. An arsonist burning down a mosque “is not good for your community, it is not good for America.”
Asked if he believes this was a hate crime, Thompson said the fact that the arsonist struck on the same day that the nation marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks does raise flags.
“Certainly I feel that is probably the case, “ he said. “Do I have evidence to say the individual targeted this building because it was a mosque? I do not.”
Thompson’s emotional appeal for the public’s help came a day after firefighter battled for hours to douse the flames that devoured much of the roof of the mosque in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Footage from the building’s surveillance cameras captured what appears to be a white or Hispanic man in embroidered jeans and a wide-brimmed military style hat roaring up to the sanctuary on a motorcycle at 11:38 p.m. Sunday. He was carrying what appeared to be paper and bottle of liquid.
Investigators suspect the arsonist may have inadvertently burned himself because the footage shows him waving an arm as he flees.
An hour later, firefighters were on the scene battling a stubborn blaze.
Thompson said samples have been sent up to the state crime lab in Tallahassee to identify the accelerant that was used to set the fire.
The FBI along with investigators from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have joined the probe.
The mosque is known as being one of the places Mateen attended prayers in the months before he killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June.
Monday's attack also coincided with the start of one of Islam's holiest times of the year, Eid Al Adha. Now the congregants will worship elsewhere, the mosque said in a statement.
"Please keep us in your Du'as and prayers," the statement read, using a term for "invocation."