With support from Mukilteo community, Mormon wards rebuild a year after arson

MUKILTEO — Without a building, they found their church in their hearts.

On Oct. 16, 2010, an arsonist torched the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building in Mukilteo. The fire, which caused nearly $4 million in damage, remains under investigation.

That night, the smoke and flames robbed more than 1,000 people of their place of worship. The church’s members were shocked and saddened, but they refused to be led by loss.

Since the fire, church members say they’ve found strength and blessings not just within their faith, but in the outpouring of love and support from others around them.

Mormons in the Mukilteo area now eagerly await the grand opening of their new building in January. They’re grateful for everyone who helped them along the way.

The church at the corner of Harbour Pointe Boulevard and Chennault Beach Drive was home to two congregations, the Beverly Park ward and the Harbour Pointe ward.

In the past year, church life has been cramped while the wards borrowed space in other buildings, Beverly Park Bishop Todd Valentine said.

The two Mukilteo-area wards were used to sharing their church and their lives, he said. Separated, each congregation was forced to step up and lead their own programs.

It was difficult, but people rose to the challenge, Valentine said.

“It’s been kind of proof to our members that as great as that building was, what really mattered was our feelings about our savior and the friendships we have built within our ward, and that if we struck together, we can overcome anything,” he said.

The new building will give the wards room to grow, Harbour Pointe Bishop Eric Jacobsen said. The church will be larger and 20 years newer, with modern conveniences such as energy-efficient appliances and fire-suppression sprinklers. The pews should arrive any day.

The building will be single-story and mostly brick, Jacobsen said. The interior is blue with cherry-colored wood.

“A lot of us, we’ve been through the new building, and we’ve been able to see it and, boy, we’re sure excited,” he said.

Still, the scope of the arson disturbed the tight-knit Mukilteo community, Mayor Joe Marine said. He arrived at the scene that morning, while the wreckage still smoldered.

It was hard for people to accept that someone not only set the fire intentionally but also targeted a church, Marine said.

In the days and months after the fire, people in Mukilteo sent the church a message, Marine said. The message was that the actions of the arsonist didn’t represent the feelings of the community.

“I was very impressed with not only the church and the way they handled it, but also the community as well saying, ‘This is not what we’re about, and this is not who we are,’ and they rallied around the church,” Marine said.

Just recently, about 100 members of the church volunteered with trail cleanup and planting in Japanese Gulch, Marine said. Church leaders told the city they wanted to pay the community back for all the support.

The arsonist has yet to be unmasked.

Mukilteo police detective Lance Smith is investigating the case alongside the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

He obtained surveillance video from a nearby school and shared it with the media to generate tips. The dark, grainy video shows the flash of a Molotov cocktail being lit before smoke fills the sky.

So far, no leads have panned out.

Smith hopes someone will come forward with information leading to a suspect, he said. He believes the arsonist targeted the Mormon community.

“This obviously disrupted a large amount of people’s lives, and although the church did an excellent job of carrying on by (temporarily) moving locations, it was still disruptive and a pain for them,” he said. “It burnt down a sacred place for that group of people, and the person needs to be brought to justice.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

Call in tips

Police are asking for information regarding the Oct. 16, 2010, arson that destroyed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building in Mukilteo. Investigators can be reached at 425-263-8100 or 800-55-ARSON. There is some reward money available.

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