The massive fire at a Cambridge, Massachusetts, church that broke out on Easter Sunday is being investigated as an act of arson, according to federal, state and local law enforcement.
The FBI, Massachusetts State Police and others on Tuesday asked the public for information as well as photos and videos of Faith Lutheran Church on the day the fire broke out. The agencies involved stressed that any detail, however small, is worth sharing.
"We are keenly aware that any place of worship is a cornerstone of the community, and we want to reassure residents that we’re approaching this case with the seriousness and gravity that it deserves," officials wrote in a joint statement.
Longtime neighborhood residents who witnessed the inferno say it's something they won't forget.
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"Watching stained glass windows be smashed by firemen, flames, billowing smoke, the collapsing," Sarah Dunbar recalled. "It was bad."
Now, investigators say the fire at Faith Lutheran was intentionally set, and they're asking the public for any tips or leads.
"It sounds like just pure hate," said neighbor Ricky DeFrancisco. "And that's really troubling."
In the aftermath of the fire, the 114-year-old church's steeple was taken down and parishioners had to find a temporary home to continue worshipping. The fire started about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 9, just 30 minutes after people had left Mass, officials have said.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the FBI's tip phone line at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).
The FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; state and local police and state and local fire officials were jointly seeking images or video of the church from April 8-10, which can be submitted to a web page the FBI set up: fbi.gov/cambridgechurchfire.
It took about 150 firefighters from Cambridge and the surrounding area to put out the blaze, which left the church badly damaged, officials said. No civilians were hurt in the fire, but multiple firefighters had minor injuries.
"To hear that a building burned down in your neighborhood is scary enough, but to hear it was done on purpose makes it even more scary," said neighborhood resident James Nicholson.
The church's pastor said Tuesday night he has no idea who would target the church.
"No explicit threats were made to the church at all, so that's why this is all very surprising and concerning to all of us," said Pastor Robin Lutjohann. "I trust that the investigators will do their job and find out what they can find out, and I'll do my job and continue to pastor my congregation."
Parishioners hope some of the church's original parts can still be salvaged.
"The building is the place of gathering, and now we need to divorce ourselves of that and say, 'Okay, we gather as a community,'" parishioner Larry Parnell has said. "It's neat to see the cross still up there and maybe they could save that."
The building was erected in 1909 by Swedish immigrants who were part of the Faith Lutheran congregation since the late 1800s, according to the church's website.