Suspects sought in attacks on Puget Sound Jehovah’s Witnesses halls

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Officials are still searching for suspects in a string of arsons and a gunfire attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ halls in Thurston and Pierce counties.

There have been six fires set to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ places of worship since March of 2018, and a Kingdom Hall in Yelm was shot dozens of times, according to a statement from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Seattle.

No one was injured in the attacks, but two Kingdom Halls were completely destroyed.

“It is inevitable that innocent people will be injured or killed if these incidents go unchecked,” ATF Seattle Special Agent in Charge Darek Pleasants said in a statement.

Officials believe the attacks, which occurred as recently as last month, are connected. They are asking the public for information that could lead to a suspect, who is believed to have a personal grievance with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ community, according to ATF.

The fires started on March 19, 2018, when Kingdom Halls in both Tumwater and Olympia were targeted and sustained minor damage. Two months later, a Kingdom Hall in Yelm was shot with 35 rifle rounds, resulting in more than $10,000 in damage to the structure, according to ATF.

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The same halls in Olympia and Yelm were targeted again last summer. The Olympia hall on Cain Road was completely destroyed in July. In Yelm, members were able to put out a fire set to the back fence of the hall in August before it caused major damage.

In December, a Kingdom Hall in Lacey was completely destroyed in a fire. And in August of this year, a fire set to an assembly hall in Puyallup caused damage to an exterior wall and overhang.

Officials believe the person or people responsible for the attacks likely expressed their grievances related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ community before acting on them. They may have dramatically changed their appearance and routines after the attacks, sustained unexplained injuries or shown intense interest in law enforcement’s investigation, according to ATF.

Officials are asking those with information to call one of the following hotlines, which allow callers to remain anonymous:

  • ATF: 888-283-8477
  • Crime Stoppers of South Sound: 800-222-8477
  • Arson Alarm Foundation: 800-552-7766

In partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the agencies are offering up to $61,000 for information that leads to an arrest or conviction.