Woman charged with attempted arson of Martin Luther King Jr. birthplace in Atlanta

MLK Birth Home-Arrest
Posted at 7:52 AM, Dec 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-08 09:52:20-05

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta police have arrested a woman who's accused of trying to burn down the birthplace of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.

Officers arrested the 26-year-old woman around 5:45 p.m. Thursday after responding to a report of vandalism in process at the two-story home in the historic Auburn Avenue Historic District, according to a police statement. Police say a preliminary investigation shows the woman had poured gasoline on the property before people at the site stopped her.

"We believe at this time she was pouring gasoline on the porch and the door of the home. Their quick action saved a jewel of our city, something very important to Atlanta,” Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum told WXIA-TV.

Video shot by a witness and broadcast by local television stations shows a young woman dressed in black pants, a black shirt and a black knit cap holding a large red gas canister standing on the front porch of the house and dousing the home with a liquid.

Tourists visiting Atlanta from Utah saw what was happening when they stopped by to see the historic home. They asked her what she was doing and then, when she picked up a lighter, Zach Kempf said he blocked her from going back up the stairs onto the porch. Then two other people detained the woman until police arrived.

“It was a little scary there for a minute because we didn’t know who she was," Kempf told WSB-TV. "We didn’t know if she had weapons on her, we didn’t know anything.”

The woman's name was not immediately released. She's charged with second-degree attempted arson and interference with government property. The historic site is now a museum owned and operated by the National Park Service.

“Tonight, an unfortunate incident occurred at the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an individual attempted to set fire to this historic property,” The King Center said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful, thanks to the brave intervention of good samaritans and the quick response of law enforcement.”

The statement from the nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to preserving the legacy of King and his wife Coretta Scott King, also said, “Our prayers are with the individual who allegedly committed this criminal act.”

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