Arson damages Jehovah’s Witnesses building

Arson damages Jehovah’s Witnesses building
Blaze set in basement of worship hall

Monday, June 26, 2006

The fire that damaged a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses building in Clinton Township early yesterday was deliberately set, investigators say.

Federal and local authorities are now searching for the arsonist or arsonists who broke into the hall at 4151 N. Hickman Rd., about a half-mile south of Morse Road.

Firefighters were summoned to the hall at 1:36 a.m. by an automatic fire alarm, said Lt. Doug Brown of the Clinton Township Fire Department.

The fire, in the basement, was extinguished within 30 minutes.

None of the roughly 100 firefighters to respond was injured. Tom Wiley, a presiding overseer at the hall, estimated the damage to be at least $30,000.

A motive was unclear. No arrests were made yesterday, and the fire is under investigation by township authorities and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which typically helps investigate fires at places of worship.

Wiley said three congregations totaling about 350 people regularly worship at the hall. The building houses the main meeting hall and other rooms, including two libraries.

Though the brick building appears intact from the outside, Wiley said the basement sustained heavy fire, smoke and water damage. Religious literature and computer equipment were lost to the flames, he said.

“Most of the upstairs wasn’t damaged, except for maybe the smell of smoke,” he said.

He said it appeared those responsible rifled through cabinets as though looking for money or valuables. Nothing appeared to have been taken.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses began building the hall in 1958 and finished two years later. They have had few problems with crime since then, with a break-in to a tool shed on the property about the worst incident that Wiley could recall.

“It’s a sign of the times,” he said. Witnesses are taught not to be vindictive and to place trust in Jehovah, he said.

“He’ll take care of it,” Wiley said. “If he sees fit to take action, he will.”

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