Police investigating San Francisco Armenian church fire as hate crime

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Monday, September 21, 2020
SF Police investigating Armenian church fire as hate crime
The board of trustees at St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco say arsonists are responsible for an early morning fire Thursday that destroyed three parts of the church property. SFPD is investigating the fire as a hate crime.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A hate crime investigation is underway at an Armenian church in San Francisco after it was set ablaze on Thursday morning, the San Francisco Police Department announced.

The leaders of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church posted on Facebook that the building adjacent to the main church in Laurel Heights was set on fire by arsonists.

SFPD is investigating the fire that occurred at a school located on the 800 block of Brotherhood Way and at a church located on the unit block of Commonwealth Avenue around 4 a.m.

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"I can't feel safe right now because of what I've seen I mean I was in tears when I came this morning it's awful. Everything my desk is gone!" said Seta Tchakerian who has worked inside the building for 15 years. Pictures of her late husband were lost in the fire.

"The building housed Vasbouragan Hall, as well as offices for St. Gregory Armenian Church and various organizations," the church board of trustees said in a statement. "The San Francisco Fire Department responded immediately, however, the building has suffered a great loss."

Armenian community leaders say the fire was set in three separate locations in the building: Sunday School classrooms, the church office and in the Hamazkayin Library.

The latest incident happened on Sept. 19 at 2:25. Officers assigned to patrol the school on the 800 block of Brotherhood Way heard gunshots in the area. The officers immediately searched for the source of the gunshots, but no suspects were located.

During the search, officers located a damaged sign in front of the school, which appeared to be caused by a bullet, but no injuries were reported.

This follows an attack on the Krouzian-Zekarian Vasbouragan Armenian School and the adjacent community center in July.

"We think that there are people that don't like the Armenians and somehow through their hate this is the way they take their revenge," says church chairman Rostom Aintablian. Aintablian went on to say that the church is offering a 25-thousand dollar reward to anyone with information that will help catch and convict a person who may have been involved in starting the fire.

"There is no room for this cowardly, hateful, criminal act in San Francisco," said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin on Twitter. "We stand with the Armenian community against hate."

The church has set up a GoFundMe page to assist in the recovery efforts.

SFPD says they have taken steps to increase the safety and security of the community and for the physical sites however, they ask that the community remain alert and report anything suspicious to the police. Investigators are actively working to identify the suspects.