Three Catholic Churches in El Paso were this year the targets of arson, FBI officials announced on Sept. 19.
“The unknown perpetrator(s) of these crimes are believed to have used an incendiary device in an attempt to set fire to three Westside Catholic churches,” the FBI said in a statement.
“Each church sustained damage caused from these devices. Thankfully, to date no one has been injured.”
The first incident occurred on May 7 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, and the next incident occurred just one week later on May 13 at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Another arson was attempted on June 15 at St. Jude Catholic Church.
A spokesman for the Diocese of El Paso told the NY Times that each incident took place in the early morning hours.
In each case an attempt was made to throw a device like a Molotov cocktail through a church window. In two cases, the devices did not break the windows, but bounced onto the sidewalk instead. At St. Jude, the device broke the window and burned some pews inside the parish church.
The church arsons came in the months before Saturday Aug. 3, when an armed man killed 22 people and injured at least two dozen others when he opened fire on shoppers at an El Paso Walmart near the El Cielo Vista shopping center.
The shooting is suspected to have been racially motivated. Officials say that hours before the attack, the shooter published a document online detailing his hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics. Police said he appeared to have been targeting Latinos during the attack.
The arson incidents and the shooting do not appear to be related, and the FBI has not commented on a potential motive.
The FBI’s El Paso Field Office, the El Paso Fire Marshal’s Office, the El Paso Police Department, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) are investigating the arson incidents and “seeking the public’s assistance in identifying the person(s) responsible.”
“We are counting on assistance from members of the community to keep our city safe. We are asking everyone to please remain vigilant for suspicious or unusual activity to include events and persons around you,” the FBI stated.
The FBI in El Paso is offering $5,000 for information that leads to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the arson crimes, for a total of $15,000 if the perpetrator(s) of all three crimes are found.