FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
A fire yesterday in buildings adjoining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Waianae destroyed the gymnasium and caused extensive damage to the kitchen and offices. A criminal investigation into the cause of the fire has been opened.
Church arson costs could hit $1 million
Suspects are being sought in the fire at the Mormon chapel in Waianae
Police searched a Waianae neighborhood yesterday for arson suspects who allegedly caused $500,000 to $1 million in damage to a gymnasium, kitchen and offices belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The afternoon fire spared the 42-year-old chapel on Plantation Road.
Investigators found "several areas (inside the buildings) where the fire started," said police Detective Gary Lahens. "It was maliciously set."
Police were also looking for witnesses to the 12:45 p.m. fire at the Waianae chapel at 85-576 Old Plantation Road. About 35 firefighters brought the fire under control by 1:15 p.m.
Lahens urged anyone with information on the fire to call CrimeStoppers at 955-8300 or *CRIME on a cell phone, and said a $1,000 cash reward is available for tips that lead to the arrest of a suspect.
No one was in the church or adjacent buildings at the time of the fire and a physical facilities representative had locked up after an early-morning service by 8 a.m., said officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the scene yesterday.
Church officials also said the Waianae chapel has not received any threats and that it was its first fire ever.
In the past two weeks, however, the gymnasium, which is used as a multipurpose hall, had been broken into twice, said Ruben Paet, the church's Makakilo Stake president, who oversees the area.
Church officials presumed youngsters had broken in since the suspects raided jars of candy and plastered toilet paper all over the gym, Paet said, and called the incidents "more of an annoyance."
When asked if he believed the fire may have been started by the same suspects, Paet replied: "I don't know -- this is far above what happened."
Paet said the suspects in this case apparently broke through jalousies in the back of the building, not visible from the street.
A chain-link fence, stone wall and gate surround the entire property. The fence behind the building borders on the Puu Kahea Baptist Conference Center.
"I saw our gym pretty much torched," he said. "It's pretty much charcoal.
"We're disheartened because this has been a meeting place for 40 years," Paet added. "It's been a place of worship for 40 years."
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Officials from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Waianae's Plantation Road gathered after yesterday's fire, including Daniel Yamamura, left, Ruben Paet, Bishop William Wegesend and Jim Nahinu.
Fire investigators estimated total losses to be $500,000, fire Capt. Kenison Tejada said.
Paet said he guessed the damages to be at least $1 million and said about half the gym was destroyed.
"The thing that distresses the leaders of the church is that there's no money, nothing of value, no valuable art, just the members' sweat to rebuild and maintain it," said Daniel Yamamura, church facilities manager for regions of Oahu and Kauai, adding that "the church does a lot for the community."
About 500 members from three congregations and one branch worship at the Waianae chapel on Sundays, and may have to temporarily relocate to the larger Makakilo Stake Center.
The gym or multipurpose hall is used as a basketball court, and a stage is used for plays. Members also hold potluck gatherings and other activities in it.
On Jan. 19, 2004, arson caused $40,000 in damage to a large building adjoining the Mormon Church's Beckley Street chapel in Kalihi, and its offices were burglarized, though nothing was taken.
Bishop Leo Tanielu of the Maili Kai Ward, which meets at the Waianae chapel, said the fire saddened him.
"It's a lot of time and money going to be spent to rebuild," he said. "This is where they test our faith, and we will pray for those people. We hope they show some remorse in their hearts.
"It just makes us stronger," he said.
He said the church is financially well-supported "through our tithe-payers" and is prepared to rebuild, which he predicted will get done within a couple of months.