The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for a strong of attacks on Jehovah’s Witness halls in the past year — including gunfire that caused $10,000 in damage to the Kingdom Hall in Yelm in May 2018 — has increased to $61,000 after the Federal Bureau of Investigations offered an additional $25,000 last week, according to a press release from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
The ATF is offering up to $25,000, the Arson Alarm Foundation is offering a reward from its $10,000 fund and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office is offering up to $1,000 through the Crime Stoppers of South Sound, according to the press release.
There have been seven separate attacks on Kingdom and Assembly Halls of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Thurston County since March 2018.
The ATF detailed them as such in its press release:
• On March 19, 2018, two arson attacks occurred. One happened at a Tumwater Kingdom Hall and the second happened at a Kingdom Hall on Cain Road in Olympia. Damage to both was minor, limited to the exterior structures.
• On May 15, 2018, an unknown suspect or suspects shot and struck a Kingdom Hall in Yelm with about 35 .223-caliber rifle rounds, causing more than $10,000 in damage to the structure.
• On July 3, 2018, an arson completely destroyed the Olympia Kingdom Hall on Cain Road. This was the same Kingdom Hall that was damaged in the March 19 attack.
• On Aug. 8, 2018, a fire was set against the back fence at the rear of the Kingdom Hall in Yelm, but members were able to put the fire out. This fire caused minimal damage to the fence and a back wall of the Kingdom Hall. This was the same location where someone fired rifle rounds at it on May 15.
• On Dec. 7, 2018, an arson completely destroyed the Lacey Kingdom Hall on Sixth Avenue Southeast.
• On Aug. 13, 2019, a fire was set at the Puyallup Assembly Hall on 62nd Avenue East, causing relatively minor damage to an outside wall and overhang.
The incidents were all close to each other and believed to be related, according to the ATF.
No injuries have been reported in any of the incidents.
“It is inevitable that innocent people will be injured or killed if these incidents go unchecked,” said Seattle Field Division Special Agent in Charge Darek Pleasants after the December 2018 fire, according to the press release. “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.”
The ATF believes that the crimes were meant to send a message and that the suspect or suspects has or have a grievance related to the Jehovah’s Witness community.
The ATF believes that before these fires, the person or persons involved are likely to have shared these strong feelings with others through comments and conversation, according to the press release.
The ATF believes that the individual or individuals responsible for these incidents may have also exhibited changes in behavior in the hours and days since the fires, to include:
• 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 this investigation.
Anyone with information on the fires or shooting should call ATF’s toll free hotline at 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 (1-800-552-7766). Callers can remain anonymous.
More information about ATF and its programs are available at www.atf.gov.