Investigators do not believe the second fire to engulf a Bellevue mosque was a hate crime.
In just over one year, the building of the Islamic Center of Eastside, 14700 block of Main St., was ablaze for the second time at around 4:30 p.m. March 21 before crews with the Bellevue Fire Department extinguished the flames.
The building has been vacant since Jan. 14, 2017 when it was first set on fire. Isaac Wayne Wilson, 37, pleaded guilty to reckless burning in connection with that fire after being initially charged with second-degree arson. He was sentenced to 14 months in prison, 12 months of which were to be served in community custody.
However, in a March 24 community meeting with Bellevue police, the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Police Chief Steve Mylett revealed Wilson had been released from jail two-to-three weeks prior to the fire and it was “no coincidence” he had been seen in the area a couple of days prior.
But Mylett explained that Wilson’s Department of Corrections reporting station is “right across the street from the mosque.” Because he was wanted for failing to report to his probation parole officer, police arrested him and he was in custody within 24 hours of the fire, Mylett said.
As investigators talked to him, more tips started coming in.
Detectives learned four minutes before smoke and flames enveloped the mosque, several people looking like teenagers ran out from behind the mosque.
At the scene, when ATF began investigating the origin of the fire, they determined it had been in use by people since last year.
“Officers and investigators found mattresses and pizza boxes in the structure, cigarettes, cigar residue, packaging, a bunch of garbage and graffiti,” Mylett said, adding that the author of the graffiti conveyed a message that they did not like school.
The graffiti read a four-letter vulgar word followed by the word “school.”
Additionally, witnesses reported seeing kids and adults coming in and out of the mosque specifically within the last month.
Mylett said he gathered a handful of people with the Islamic Center of Eastside to let them know of more evidence he couldn’t share at the meeting and “consensus-wise we came to the conclusion that there is nothing indicating that this fire was started as a result of hate or bias towards Islam or the Muslim community.”
Although that could change once police talk to the individuals and they reveal otherwise.
FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said for the fire to be considered a federal crime, there has to be a particular element of bias.
“There must be specific targeting based on protected traits (race, color, religion, national origin, disability, gender, family status) plus intention for the crime to injure, intimidate or interfere with those federally protected traits,” she said. “The FBI will continue to support our Bellevue police and fire partners as the investigation continues, so we are aware of any developing information.”
If the FBI does identify evidence a federal crime was committed, they will “engage the United States Attorney’s Office to determine whether federal charges should be filed.”