Police have arrested a Minnesota man after they say he torched a nearly 120-year-old synagogue. But as of Sunday, police said they aren’t calling it a hate crime.
The man charged is 36-year-old Matthew J. Amiot.
On Friday, he was arrested on arson charges in connection with last Monday’s fire.
It burned down the historic Adas Israel Synagogue in Duluth, Minnesota.
Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said that at this point in the investigation, there is “no reason to believe this is a bias or hate crime”.
“That may change,” he said. “But at this point in time, that is the determination I have.”
The fire broke out around 2:30 a.m. outside the house of worship but “quickly spread through voids in the wall space and spread throughout the synagogue” said Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj.
Luckily there was nobody inside, but firefighters hosed down the wood-framed building for at least five hours before it collapsed.
One firefighter was injured.
A total of six Torah scrolls, handwritten on parchment paper, were destroyed – but authorities said they found no accelerants were found at the scene, so it’s unclear exactly what happened.
Police said Amiot isn’t Jewish, but they haven’t found any previous contact or connection between him or the synagogue. They also said he doesn’t have a known permanent address… or a rap sheet.
He’s being held in the St. Louis County Jail.
The synagogue goes all the way back to the late 19th century, and was the oldest modern Orthodox house of worship in northern Minnesota.
Rabbi Phillip Sher appreciated the work of the firefighters, calling them “heroic.”
“They went into a building that was still burning to save some of our artifacts,” he said. “The bravery of these men is just incredible.”
Sher, who leads the congregation, says he has been comforting members mourning the loss of their sacred space.
“True Judaism is in the heart,” he noted. “It’s not in the building.”