Arson attack on Martin Luther King Jr’s childhood home in Atlanta is prevented at the last second as off-duty cops arrest woman dousing historic building with gasoline

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • A 26-year-old woman is in custody in Atlanta after dousing the civil rights hero’s childhood home in gasoline before trying to ignite a lighter 

Law enforcement in Atlanta have credited good Samaritans including two off-duty NYPD officers with stopping a woman from trying to burn down the childhood home of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. 

Tourists recorded a video showing the 26-year-old suspect aggressively pouring gasoline from a large red can over the bushes and front windows of the house where King lived until he was 12 years old. 

In the clip, a witness twice asks: ‘What are you doing?’ The woman signals with her hand for him to leave her alone. ‘That’s gasoline,’ he tells her. Those witnesses later said that they stepped in when they saw her attempting to ignite a lighter on the lawn.

In the next shot, the woman is pinned to the ground with a knee on her back as another person appears to be trying to speak to her. Those two people were off-duty New York City cops who stopped her from leaving the scene, authorities said.   

The suspect has not been named by authorities nor has a motive been revealed. She is a veteran, according to The New York Times. King’s home is federal property so federal charges could be forthcoming. Officials are working with her family in an attempt to determine the state of her mental health.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum told the media that in addition to the NYPD officers, two tourists from Utah also stepped in and help to ‘save and important part of American history tonight.’ 

Shortly after her arrest, the woman’s father and sisters arrived at the scene. They said that they had been trying to track her down because they were worried about her and found her through a tracking app on her phone. 

The home is located in Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn section and is undergoing renovations and is closed to the public until 2025. 

It’s where Martin Luther King lived for the first 12 years of his life and is now a National Historical Park and is considered to have played a huge part in shaping King’s life.

In an interview with The New York Times, Utah man Zach Kempf said that he thought the suspect was merely watering shrubs until she started pulling on the front door and seemed to be attempting to enter the house.

‘Which just seemed weird, so we asked her what she was doing, and she didn’t respond.’ 

He described her demeanor as ‘nervous’ but not aggressive as she left the scene when Kempf stopped her from igniting the lighter. 

‘And I yelled at the two guys down the street that she was trying to set the house on fire and to follow her,’ he said. 

‘Obviously, the house is so important, and I’m really glad nothing happened to it. But I feel like now I’m mostly just concerned for her well-being.’ 

Witnesses said that they initially thought that the suspect was watering the shrubs until she tried to get access to the house 

Two off-duty NYPD officers stopped the suspect, 26, from leaving the scene as they waited for the Atlanta PD to arrive

Two off-duty NYPD officers stopped the suspect, 26, from leaving the scene as they waited for the Atlanta PD to arrive

Atlanta Fire Department Battalion Chief Jerry DeBerry echoed the police chief’s words, saying that if the witnesses any longer, the home could have been lost forever. 

‘It could have been a matter of seconds before the house was engulfed in flames,’ DeBerry said. 

‘Tonight, an unfortunate incident occurred at the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an individual attempted to set fire to this historic property. Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful, thanks to the brave intervention of good Samaritans and the quick response of law enforcement,’ the King Center said in a statement.

‘We thank the Atlanta Police Department, Atlanta Fire Department, the National Parks Service, and Mayor Andre Dickens for leading the efforts to ensure the safety of our cherished national landmark and its adjacent neighbors. Our prayers are with the individual who allegedly committed this criminal act,’ the press release continued.

Congress declared the home a National Historic Site in 1980, and the National Park Service began offering tours of it in 1982.

The home was built in 1895 for a white family and bought by King’s maternal grandfather in 1909 for $3,500. King’s mother inherited it. King’s younger brother, A.D. King, and his family were the last of the King line to live there.

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