A series of allegedly targeted fires have torn through Jehovah’s Witness halls in one Washington State county since March, with the fifth set early Friday morning, federal authorities said over the weekend.
In May, someone also fired 35 rifle rounds into a Kingdom Hall, a place of worship in the religion, in Thurston County, southwest of Seattle, where the alleged arson also occurred, NBC affiliate KING reported.
No suspects have been identified, though Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza described the latest fire as one of a number of recent “attacks” against Kingdom Halls.
“How frustrating is it that people who find a solemn place of worship — now it’s being destroyed,” Snaza told reporters on Friday.
Authorities were dispatched to Friday’s blaze at a Kingdom Hall in Lacey, a suburb of Olympia, at 3:42 a.m., Snaza said. Deputies and firefighters arrived a few minutes later to find the building fully engulfed in flames, he said.
The earlier fires occurred in Olympia, Tumwater and Yelm between March and August, KING reported. Two of the blazes caused minor damage, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Fire and Tobacco.
On July 3, a fire destroyed the Olympia Kingdom Hall, the agency said.
The shooting, which also targeted the Yelm Kingdom Hall, caused $10,000 in damage, according to KING.
Dan Woollett, a minister at Lacey Kingdom Hall, described the fire as “devastating,” but said it wouldn’t keep congregants from practicing their faith.
"No matter who we are, no matter what our religious persuasion is, we have to cope with the problems we face," Woollett told the station.
The ATF said authorities were offering a $36,000 reward for information in the case.
The insular Christian denomination, which developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, claims to have nearly 8.5 million members worldwide and offers a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible requiring congregants to separate from society. Members forgo birthdays, holidays, the pledge of allegiance and voting.