Arsonist sets fire, leaves fake bomb at Yelm Kingdom Hall church

Bomb squad technicians investigate a suspicious device left near a Yelm church, Wednesday, August 8, 2018. (KOMO Photo)

YELM , Wash. -- Deputies are investigating another arson at a Kingdom Hall church in Thurston County.

It was around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday when Church Elders at Kingdom Hall on Vail Road SE arrived to find smoldering fire logs stacked up alongside an outside wall, according to the Thurston County Sheriff's Office. They quickly doused the logs with water and fire damage was minimal. However, they noted something that looked like a potential explosive device on the ground near the other side of the building and called for help.

In addition to the bomb squad, officials from ATF and FBI came to the scene for the investigation.

"It's very concerning for us that we have this going on in our community. And we're going to do everything we can to find out who's responsible for it and hold that person accountable," said Chief Dave Pearsall with the Thurston County Sheriff's Office.

After hours of scrutiny, investigators determined the device was fake, but designed to look like a real explosive. They are still on the scene processing evidence.

Detectives say there have been at least four other instances of similarly-natured attacks at Kingdom Hall churches across Thurston County of late and a task force has already been assembled for those investigations. The most serious attack was on July 3 when an arsonist caused severe damage to the Kingdom Hall church in Olympia.

"I just think it's totally uncalled for. It's unnecessary in this day and time. We just need to love each other and not do crazy stuff like this," said neighbor Renee Flansburg.

There also were two earlier arsons in March that caused minor damage - one at the same Kingdom Hall that was destroyed in July and one at a Kingdom Hall in Tumwater. Video surveillance footage showed a person pouring a liquid on the exterior of the Olympia church in the earlier fire, but no suspect was ever arrested.

The other attack was a shooting that struck a Kingdom Hall in Yelm with about 35 rifle rounds, causing more than $10,000 in damage to the structure.

Rewards totaling $26,000 are being offered for information that leads to the arrest of the arsonist(s).

Anyone having 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 (-27766).

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