Matthew Amiot, 36, is the man accused of sparking a fire in Duluth, Minnesota that destroyed a century-old synagogue.
Police say there is no evidence to suggest that this was a hate crime against the Jewish community. Investigators said the fire began outside of the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue on September 9, 2019, and did not find any accelerants at the site.
Rabbi Phillip Sher said that plans for a new synagogue would likely be put on hold until the spring of 2020.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Matthew Amiot Was Identified In Part Due to Surveillance Video & Charged With Arson
Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken explained in a news conference on September 15, 2019, that Matthew James Amiot was identified as a suspect early on in the investigation. He said that investigators went through hundreds of hours of surveillance footage and interviewed multiple potential witnesses to figure out what had happened.
Amiot was arrested on September 13 and booked into the Saint Louis County Jail in Duluth, Minnesota. According to inmate records, Amiot is charged with felony arson. He also faces a gross misdemeanor count for “Negligent Fires” and causing bodily harm to another person.
2. Amiot Does Not Have a Permanent Address in Duluth & Has an Arrest Record
Matthew Amiot does not have a permanent home address, according to Duluth police. Officials did not speculate as to a possible motive for the fire.
A search of online records shows that Amiot has been arrested before in Minnesota. He was arrested in 2015 on a misdemeanor shoplifting charge, for stealing something worth less than $500. The record shows he was convicted.
In March of 2017, Amiot faced the same charge again in St. Louis County and was convicted. In April of that year, Amiot was also arrested for trespassing.
Amiot’s arrest record lists additional cases for suspected burglary, drug possession, and having an open container of alcohol on public property.
3. Police: The Fire Sparked Outside of the Synagogue & This Does Not Appear to Have Been a Hate Crime
The investigation into the fire remains “open and active,” according to Duluth police. But Chief Mike Tusken explained that at this point, investigators have no reason to believe that this was a hate crime or that Matthew Amiot would have been motivated by any bias.
Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizag explained during the news conference that firefighters were called out to the scene around 2:25 in the morning on September 9. The original call had been for a fire in a shed near an apartment building.
When firefighters arrived, they realized the fire had sparked outside of the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue. But the flames had quickly spread to the synagogue itself.
The fire chief also explained that in addition to the Duluth Fire Department and Police Department, the ATF was also called in to investigate. He said this is standard practice when a fire involved any place of worship.
4. Firefighters Managed to Save Sacred Religious Objects From the Burning Building
Rabbi Phillip Sher described the actions of the Duluth firefighters as “heroic.” He thanked them profusely during a news conference on September 15. He said they bravely went inside the synagogue and managed to save several Torahs and other religious artifacts.
One firefighter had to be hospitalized. Captain Ben Gasner, who has been with the Duluth Fire Department for nearly two decades, was hit by falling debris and had to be rescued. The Duluth News Tribune reported that after Gasner was rescued, the other firefighters were ordered out of the building. Shortly after, a portion of the roof then collapsed. Officials said Gasner suffered a concussion but was recovering from his injuries.
5. Matthew Amiot Did Not Have Any Known Connections to the Synagogue, Which Has Been Part of the Duluth Community For More Than a Century
Matthew Amiot has no known connections to the Adas Israel Congregation or its members, according to Rabbi Phillip Sher. It is a small Orthodox community with about 75 full-time members, according to the St. Paul Jewish Federation.
The Minnesota Historical Society states that the Adas Israel Congregation was founded by immigrants from Lithuania in 1885. The building of the synagogue began in 1901.
Rabbi Sher explained that services would be held in temporary locations for right now. He said that synagogue leaders would hold off on finding or building a new permanent synagogue until spring of 2020, after the Minnesota winter.