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Suspect in Fort Pierce mosque fire arrived on motorcycle, may have sustained burns

Posted: 4:19 AM, Sep 12, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-13 00:13:59-04
Fire investigated at Fort Pierce mosque
Fire investigated at Fort Pierce mosque
Fire investigated at Fort Pierce mosque
Fire investigated at Fort Pierce mosque
Fire investigated at Fort Pierce mosque
Fire investigated at Fort Pierce mosque
Fire investigated at Fort Pierce mosque

Jennifer Parsons watched as the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce burned in front of her eyes Monday morning.

"Come out the door and you just feel the heat from the fire because it's close," said Parsons who lives across the street from the mosque on Midway Road.

RELATED: Gallery of the fire, damage   |  Worshippers displaced by fire

Investigators said the  overnight fire was intentionally set  at the center, the same mosque attended by Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.

The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office says a white or Hispanic male approached the building with a bottle filled with some type of liquid, and an accelerant.  He was on a "Harley-Davidson-style" motorcycle. 

Investigators say the suspect could have burns to his hands as well.

Major David Thompson with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said video captured at the mosque showed a person approaching the east side of the building just moments before a flash was seen and the fire started.

 

The timing of the arson has investigators looking into whether this was a hate crime.

"Of course because of what's going on and because this is a place of worship and of course because this happened on the anniversary of 9/11 we're going to explore that but we're not confident to say that's the case at this time," said Major Thompson.

For Jennifer Parsons, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, this fire hits close to home not just geographically. Her doctor worships at the Islamic Center.

“They’ve always told me if I needed food I could walk across the street and say I have no food, they would give me food.  I don’t see how people can be so racist, so ignorant," said Parsons.

The mosque issued the following statement on its Facebook page: It is with a very heavy heart that we have to announce that last night around midnight, there was an arson attack on our Mosque. We urge those of you coming for Eid Prayer to please go to the other Masjid on US-1, Address: 4000 US-1, Fort Pierce, FL 34982
Please keep us in your Du'as and prayers.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued this statement Monday morning.

"We congratulate the St. Lucie Sheriff office and Major D. Thompson for their prompt response to this tragic situation. It is worrisome that our community have fallen victim of another hate crime. This time another mosque has been targeted in a crime that could have easily taken the life of any worshiper. Only one hour prior to the fire the building was occupied. Our prayers are with the Ft. Pierce Islamic Center community for all the difficulties they have endured this year.  On the other hand, we are grateful  that nobody was physically hurt and that not only local but also federal law enforcement agencies are on top of this heinous act of terror against the Muslim community.

The center is closed indefinitely.  Center leaders say if they can rebuild, they will.