Third arson case this week targets former Brush Prairie church - KPTV - FOX 12

Third arson case this week targets former Brush Prairie church

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BRUSH PRAIRIE, WA (KPTV) -

A former Brush Prairie church was broken into and set ablaze Saturday night, making it the third church in less than a week to be targeted by arsonists. 

Clark County officials said the fire caused about $25,000 in damage to the former Bethesda Slavic Church.

The facility now is owned by Daybreak Youth Services, a drug and alcohol treatment organization for Washington and Oregon teens.

"My first thought, of course, went to the previous two incidents of churches in our community and it really broke my heart," Daybreak Executive Director Annette Klinefelter said Sunday.

The damages to the building were contained to one small room. A building caretaker said the suspects broke a window and poured gasoline through, then lit it on fire. Fire sprinklers activated and quickly put out the fire.

The building will soon be transformed into an inpatient treatment center for nearly 60 teens from around the region.

"We're just a few weeks from breaking ground on the renovation, and it would have absolutely been a devastation," Klinefelter said, adding that the nonprofit has been waiting 16 years to build a new facility so it can treat more patients.

Earlier in the week, somebody set the First Congregational United Church of Christ on fire. That blaze heavily damaged the building, forcing the church to hold Sunday services outside for the hundreds of people who attended.

"For us, coming together on this day, in this tragedy, is super important," said church member Molly Wilson. "It's the best way to heal I think."

Ed Frank said he has attended the church since it opened decades ago, and that looking at the damage is tough.

"It's very disturbing after being a member here for 40 years," he said. "This is our family. But I think people will pull together, the attendance this morning is a good indication of that."

The Sunday service was also packed at Liberty Bible Church. The church was hit by arson Thursday morning. Fire sprinklers were also activated in this incident, but the investigators said the building sustained heavy water damage. The church’s nursery was destroyed.

Pastor Larry Rounsely said it has been an emotional week for his congregation, but the outpouring of love and support from other churches has been overwhelming.

Although Liberty Bible has insurance to fix the damages, Rounsely said more than enough money has been donated by other churches and well-wishers to replace nursery items and other necessities.

The support has lifted the spirits of members, and they say their faith hasn't been shaken.

"Our church is not the building — it's the people – and God will be with us and we'll go forward," said church member Helga Barnes.

Barnes added, "We are praying for those that perpetrated this. We pray for them to understand what they've done, and to maybe get some help."

Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway said he urges continued vigilance for all businesses, but especially for places of worship. 

"Be alert and report anything suspicious or unusual. It may be a small detail that makes the difference in solving these cases. Also, make sure access points are secured, exterior areas are illuminated, and fire systems are in working order," he said in a county release.

Anyone with information regarding these crimes should call 911, the Clark County Fire Marshal's Office (360) 397-2186 X 3321, or the Clark County Sheriff's Office at (360) 397-6079. A reward of up to $10,000 may be available for information leading to the arrest and prosecution in these cases.

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