Fire at St. George Stake Center now a “Criminal Investigation”
ST. GEORGE, Utah – A Saturday morning drive is what many residents do in St. George.
But the drive Michelle Tooke Saturday morning was far from relaxing. “I got in my car and came down,” she said. “It’s devastating.”
When she pulled up to 300 east at about 500 south, she knew what she had read on Facebook just a few minutes before was true.
“It’s got wrenching. I started crying because they work so hard on this,” said Tooke while looking at the building still smoldering.
The brand new stake center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, across the street from the St. George Temple, began burning at about 1 o’clock Saturday morning.
Construction on the building was set to be finished in about a month.
Now, construction crews will have to start all over again.
“People coming up to me sitting in my car, crying and devastated. And we are hugging each other saying can you believe this? Can you believe this? And no you really can’t,” said Tooke.
Church members were close with each other anyway.
Tragedy seems to always have a way of bringing people closer.
“This is really devastating,” said John Gordon, who lives in St. George and came to the church to see what was left of it. “I mean, I know there’s a lot going on in the world, but this is really close to home.”
The fire itself was tough for firefighters.
Especially after the ceiling and roof collapsed.
“We pulled all of our crews outs and went to a defense of operation,” said Robert Stoker, who is the chief of the St. George Fire Department.
But once the fire was out, the investigation began.
After fire investigators spent hours going through what we left, they say, it looks like someone started the fire.
“We are treating it as a criminal investigation right now,” said Tiffany Atkin, an officer and spokesperson for the St. George Police Department. “This is based on some evidence we found where there’s no heat or electrical reasoning for that fire to start there.”
Even still, the damage is done.
“We’re really resilient. We just pick up and move on and we know the plan,” said Gordon.
That plan now includes building it all again.
“Rather you believe, or if you are at this faith, the Mormon faith, or not, it still doesn’t matter,” said Tooke. “This is still sacred ground.”
The biggest questions now are who did this and why?
Police officers and firefighters would certainly like to know.
They’re asking anybody with any information to give them a call.
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