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.
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, told HuffPost the attacks have displaced nearly 1,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses from their Kingdom Halls.
“Thankfully the only damage inflicted has been to our properties and not our people,” Larson wrote in an email. He noted that while it was possible to fix property damage, “our friends are precious to us and irreplaceable.”
“Hopefully the person or people involved come to their senses and see that hurting innocent, peace loving people is an act of hatred that has no place in our communities,” he added.
This article has been updated with comment from Erik Larson.