Federal investigators examining whether Bonners Ferry church ars - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Federal investigators examining whether Bonners Ferry church arson warrants hate crime charges

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BONNERS FERRY, Idaho -

Federal investigators are trying to figure out if the fire that destroyed a longstanding Catholic church in Bonners Ferry was started because of religious or racial bias.

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho, Wendy Olson, says both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are joining the investigation into the arson of St. Ann's Catholic Church.  Bonners Ferry Police say the fire, which started early Thursday morning, was set in the church basement. Detectives say they also found vandalized statues inside the more than 100-year-old church.

Congregation 'forged in fire' after Bonners Ferry church arson?

Olson told KHQ Monday that her office is evaluating whether federal charges could be filed in the case. She says the fire, if motivated by religious or racial bias, could be punished under two laws: the Church Arson Prevention Act, and the Federal Arson Statute.

The Church Arson Prevention Act was passed by Congress in 1996 after 147 fires at churches nationwide, many of which were made up of predominantly African-American congregations in the south. The act says defacing or destroying religious property because of the race, color, or ethnic characteristics of anyone associated with the property is a federal crime that carries a prison term of 20 years.

The Police Chief in Bonners Ferry last told KHQ that detectives have a person of interest in the case, and while they are following up on several good leads they had not made an arrest in the case. KHQ made several calls to the Bonners Ferry Police Department for an update on their end of the investigation, but they were not returned Monday.

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