FBI Investigating Arson at Three El Paso Churches Serving Hispanics

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is offering rewards of up to $15,000 for information as it investigates a series of arson attacks on three Catholic churches in El Paso, Texas. The three churches, attacked before the deadly shooting at an El Paso Walmart, serve mostly Hispanic and migrant congregants.

The FBI’s El Paso Field Office announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible for the arson attacks. The reward totals to $15,000. Investigators said that the unknown arsonists are believed to have used an incendiary device to set fire to the three churches.

“We are counting on assistance from members of the community to keep our city safe,” the FBI said in a statement. “We are asking everyone to please remain vigilant for suspicious or unusual activity to include events and persons around you.”

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the El Paso Fire Marshal’s Office, and the El Paso Police Department are working with the FBI to investigate the fires.

The first fire occurred on May 7 outside of the St. Matthew Catholic Church. An incendiary device reportedly missed the church window, bouncing off a wall and falling to the ground, according to The New York Times.

A week later, incendiary devices were thrown at St. Patrick Cathedral, the Catholic Diocese of El Paso told NBC News. The device hit a window but again bounced off and struck the sidewalk.

The third, and final, attack, occurred on June 15 at San Judas Tadeo Catholic Church. Firefighters found a broken window near the main sanctuary of the church. The chapel’s back pews were burned during the attack, The New York Times reported.

“Each church sustained damage caused from these devices,” the FBI said. “Thankfully, to date no one has been injured.”

The Catholic Diocese of El Paso confirmed that nobody was inside the buildings at the time of the attacks. All three arson cases occurred in El Paso’s Westside and involved churches affiliated with the El Paso Catholic Diocese, the first diocese in the US officiated by a Hispanic bishop. The arson cases remain unsolved.

Fernando Ceniceros, a spokesman for the dioceses, told The New York Times that the fires led residents to come together to donate supplies and help fix the churches. “It wasn’t so much a sense of fear; it was more a sense of coming together,” Ceniceros said. “Eerily enough, two months later we’d see that on a much larger scale in El Paso.”

The Catholic Church is offering an additional $5,000 reward in addition to the rewards announced by the FBI, Ceniceros told The New York Times. “Just so that we have a sense of closure, if you will,” he told the newspaper. “We want a resolution to this.”

The reward was announced just six weeks after the devastating attack on an El Paso Walmart that left 22 people dead.

The suspected gunman, identified as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, reportedly surrendered to police following the attack and admitted he targeted people of Mexican descent. Crusius, from Allen, Texas, allegedly published a manifesto before the shooting that claimed Hispanics were invading the US.

Crusius was indicted on capital murder charges on September 12. He is being held without bond. Prosecutors in El Paso are seeking the death penalty.

A new report from the Anti-Defamation League found that white supremacy is being weaponized and spread internationally. The report claims there has been a surge of white supremacist violence worldwide.

According to the report, white supremacists in Europe and the US are “learning from each other, supporting each other, and reaching new audiences.”, The exchange of white supremacist ideology is being facilitated by the internet through social networking sites and message boards as well as in face-to-face meetings, the report found.

The FBI said that community members should send leads on the church arsons, which police do not believe are linked to the shooting at the Walmart, “regardless of how insignificant you think your information might be.”

Anyone with information is urged to call the FBI’s El Paso Field Office at (915) 832-5000 or Crime Stoppers of El Paso at (915) 566-TIPS (8477). Information can also be submitted anonymously at tips.fbi.gov or at crimestoppersofelpaso.org.


About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.