Teen accused of setting fire at Islamic Center of Ypsilanti; motive unclear

FBI, ATF say this was not a hate crime

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PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – A 16-year-old Pittsfield Township boy is accused of intentionally setting two fires including one this past weekend at the Islamic Center of Ypsilanti on Michigan Avenue.

The teen is expected to face arson charges, Pittsfield Township police said. However, the ATF and FBI said an investigation revealed the teen was not motivated by a “bias against any race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity and are therefore not hate crimes.”

The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing the case.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The other fire the teen is accused of setting was Feb. 27 at another structure in the 5800 block of West Michigan Avenue. Local 4 is working to gather more information about this other fire.

Police started to block streets on Michigan Avenue just after 5 p.m. Saturday as the fire burned at the Islamic Center. The center, which is also a mosque, went up in flames, the fire chief said.

“It just got intense very quickly. It rose in a matter of seconds (and) it went up,” said Stephen Neckel, who spotted the fire.

Members of the center and mosque watched in disbelief. There was little they could do.

City officials said that even though the fire was under control within 20 minutes, the overhaul took another 60-90 minutes.

Matt Harshberger, director at the Department of Public Safety, said the building was unoccupied at the time of the fire.

“That was the first concern of mine,” said Christian Shukait, who works nearby. “People come and go there here and there. I just hoped nobody was in there because that’s the last thing we need on our hands.”

Once the fire was out, fire investigators secured the scene. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were called in to help out as they dug through the debris for clues.

The FBI released this statement Sarturday:

“The FBI is currently working with the Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety and the ATF to determine the cause of fire that occurred at the Islamic Community Center. If in the course of investigation, information is developed suggesting a hate crime or another federal crime, logical investigation will be conducted to identify the individual(s) responsible and authorities will coordinate with the United States Attorney’s Office to identify the best course of action towards prosecution.”


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