Security footage of a suspicious person seen near the location of the first fire in Arlington. (Ring.com)
ARLINGTON, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — Authorities are investigating a series of suspicious fires at Jewish places of worship in Arlington and Needham—and a $20,000 reward is being offered for information leading police to the person or persons who set them.
The fires occurred at Chabad centers in the two towns, which also serve as the residences of those centers' respective rabbis and their families. It wasn't yet clear if the fires were related.
The first fire was on Saturday, May 11 around 11 p.m., at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life on Lake Street in Arlington. A second fire was set at the same home Thursday night around 9 p.m. Also on Thursday night, around 10 p.m., a fire was set at a Chabad Jewish Center on High Rock Street in Needham.
Arlington Police said they are looking for a "suspicious person" seen walking away from the scene of the first fire. Video surveillance showing that person can be seen here.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Rabbi Avi Bukiet, who runs the Arlington center with his wife Luna, said the fires have shocked his family and the community.
"It has targeted not just a Jewish center, it has targeted our personal family," Rabbi Bukiet said. "We are hurting because of this, but yet, at the end of the day, with all the overwhelming support and love, it just shows us that we are in a community where we want to stay, where we plan on staying, where we plan on thriving."
Following the second Arlington fire, Arlington Police posted a detail officer outside the center full-time.
"These are extremely concerning incidents in which an innocent family has lost the all-important sense of safety and security the home is meant to convey," Arlington Police Chief Julie Flaherty said at the press conference. "It is the mission of the Arlington Police Department to protect and ensure public safety, and we will use every resource at our disposal in the investigation."
As for the Needham fire, Needham Police said it was set to the lattice and vinyl siding of the home and extinguished by the time they arrived.
Needham Police Chief John Schlittler said at the press briefing that his department is working with Arlington as well as the State Fire Marshal's office to determine if the fires are connected.
"I stand here and speak directly to the Jewish community in Needham, in Arlington, and beyond," Chief Schlittler said. "Members of the Needham Police Department stand in support with you. While many of our facts and circumstances remain to be discovered, we ask that all of you be vigilant and report anything suspicious to your local law enforcement officers."
Robert Trestan, Director of the Anti-Defamation League, thanked law enforcement for their responses to the fires—and said the ADL was adding $15,000 in reward money on top of the $5,000 the State Fire Marshal's office is offering for information leading to the capture of whoever set the fires.
"This is not just an apparent attack on a Jewish house of worship, this is also an apparent attack on a Jewish home," he said. "There is an important need for this investigation to be concluded quickly to restore a sense of safety and security in the community."
According to Chabad.org, the fires caused damage to shingles and siding at both locations.
Anyone who has information about the fires or can identify the suspicious person is asked to contact Needham Police at 781-455-7570 or Arlington Police at 781-643-1212.