Fire damage inside the prayer room
The leaders of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo — who were already trying to stay vigilant because of a mysterious and threatening letter sent this summer — said they were relieved to learn that a truck driver from Indiana was arrested and charged with breaking into the house of worship and intentionally setting a fire.
Randy Linn, 52, of St. Joe, Ind., was arrested by Indiana State Police on Tuesday and was charged on Wednesday in Perrysburg Municipal Court with two counts of aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, and carrying a concealed weapon. Federal and Ohio authorities named him as “the person of interest” captured by a surveillance camera outside the Islamic Center in Perrysburg Township during the fire on Sunday.
He was transferred Wednesday from the Allen County jail in Fort Wayne, Ind., and was being held in the Wood County jail Wednesday night in lieu of a $400,000 bond set by Perrysburg Municipal Judge S. Dwight Osterud. He was scheduled to appear at 8 a.m. today in Perrysburg Municipal Court.
It’s not clear yet what the possible motive was in setting the fire, said Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, president of the center.
“It’s certainly not an act of love,” Dr. Islam said. “And so it seems that it emanates from a great deal of bias, but we cannot say that with certainty. And when we had our discussion, and we were talking about it, we said it could be someone who is a pyromaniac. … But to get into the Islamic Center and go upstairs — and it is in the center of the prayer area — and to light a fire, there is something that … the mind wants to make what seems to be an obvious conclusion.”
The center’s security has been in a heightened state since the Muslims’ sacred month of Ramadan. The Islamic Center received a letter in mid-August that looked “scary,” Dr. Islam said, “Dark Knightlike, Batmanlike.” Stick-on letters were used for the address, and inside was a piece of paper with a grease stain that depicted a smiley face, Dr. Islam said.
She said that the letter also contained the word “stopped.” It used Arabic characters, but the period was placed English-language style.
The Islamic center reported the letter to law enforcement. As a response to that threat, “We created a system in Ramadan where we had police presence” for religious services and other events.
Perrysburg Township police declined to discuss Mr. Linn on Wednesday night. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are also investigating.
Mr. Linn is a driver for Shambaugh & Son, a construction engineering services building headquartered in Fort Wayne. It also has an office in Perrysburg Township at 25559 Eckel Rd. — less than three miles from the mosque.
He was arrested at his workplace about 3:30 p.m. in the parking lot in the 7600 block of Opportunity Drive, Indiana authorities said. Shambaugh & Son headquarters are at 7614 Opportunity Dr. in Fort Wayne.
Bill Meyer, vice president of the company, confirmed Mr. Linn’s employment.
“Any attempt by anyone to set fire to or otherwise damage a mosque or any other place of worship is reprehensible and is not in keeping with the company’s values,” he said in a statement.
Family members of Mr. Linn refused to talk to reporters on Wednesday. A sign taped to the glass storm door read: “No Comment! So don’t bother knocking or camping out on my property! Thank You.”
Dr. Islam said police showed the center’s administration images taken from a security camera, asking if they were able to identify the man dressed in a camouflage hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans. The photos were released to the media on Monday.
One member of the center reported that he had talked to the man in the photos once during the summer.
“The guy had wanted entry to the Islamic Center, and he looked suspicious, and so our member said no,” Dr. Islam said.
She added that a maintenance man was approached by a man who looked like the one from the surveillance footage, who asked for entry into the building.
The maintenance employee also refused because the center was closed, Dr. Islam said.
How the man got into the building is something of a mystery.
Dr. Islam said no windows or doors appeared to have been forced open and none was shattered.
“We are very tense and very upset about how he got access,” Dr. Islam said. “ … Obviously there are many theories floating around about how he got in. It’s open on Sunday, and people are there, and we have lecture and Sunday sermon and weekend school, so he was able to get in during that time.
“ … The problem is that the Islamic Center, it’s like a labyrinth, it’s a maze of rooms. There are tons of places where a person can get in and wait until everybody leaves. That’s the part that is spooky to us.”
The only other violent incident at the center, Dr. Islam said, was a gunshot through a window in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. Authorities arrested a person who was convicted and imprisoned for that crime.
Reacting to the arrest of Mr. Linn as a suspect in the alleged arson, Dr. Islam said, “That part at least is done. That end is tied.” She said her community can now turn to “a lot of repairs” from the fire and water damage.
Dr. Islam said the fire was started in the second-floor prayer room of the center when the room was doused with gasoline and set ablaze.
A recently installed sprinkler system upgrade inside the center kicked in, preventing additional fire damage, but with the system and water from fire crews, damage to the center is significant.
“There’s a large burned area in the center of the prayer-room hall. … And because of the sprinkler system, the carpet is like walking on a sponge. … The ceiling tiles have swollen and fallen out, and wires have fallen out,” Dr. Islam said.
“The water damage has been kind of substantial.”
Perrysburg Township police are parked outside the center still because smoke detectors are not yet functioning, Dr. Islam said.
For prayer on Friday, Muslims from Toledo-area mosques will gather under a tent at the Islamic Center at 1:30 p.m., showing “the Muslim community of Toledo coming together,” Dr. Islam said.
“One of our aims is to show believers of that [anti-Islam] mind-set the visual of Muslims praying together. It is a powerful message and will be a picture speaking 1,000 words,” she said.
She said she expects thousands to be in attendance.
An interfaith prayer service is scheduled for at 2 p.m. Sunday, with participation including non-Muslim religious groups showing their solidarity with the Islamic Center members.
“It’s very heart-wrenching to see something we love so dearly to have been damaged like this,” Dr. Islam said. “So there is a lot of outpouring of emotion from the community.”
Blade staff writer Taylor Dungjen contributed to this report.