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Bystanders Stop Arson Attempt at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthplace

Bystanders in Atlanta stopped a 26-year-old woman from setting fire to the home where Martin Luther King Jr. was born after she poured gasoline on it. Two visitors from Utah interrupted the woman as she was pouring gasoline on the porch and the door of the home, said Police Chief Darin Schierbaum, reports the New York Times. Two off-duty New York Police Department officers who had been visiting the house then chased her down and detained her until Atlanta officers arrived, he said. “That action saved an important part of American history tonight,” he added. Zach Kempf, 43, a filmmaker from Salt Lake City who was there with a co-worker, said the woman had a “nervous energy” about her. “But she wasn’t aggressive.” The New York officers restrained her and after local officers arrived, an older man approached, appearing “very distraught,” along with three women. They turned out to be the woman’s father and sisters, who had been looking for her using the location signal from her phone. Kempf said the relatives described her as a veteran who was experiencing mental distress.


The woman was charged with attempted arson and interference with government property. “An individual attempted to set fire to this historic property,” the King Center saida. “Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful,” it added. Jerry DeBerry, the Atlanta Fire Department’s battalion chief, said that a hazardous materials team was cleaning up the property and that no damage had been done.“If the witnesses hadn’t been here and interrupted what she was doing, it could have been a matter of seconds before the house was engulfed in flames,” he said. “It was really about the timing and the witnesses being in the right place at the right time.”The two-story Queen Anne-style house, built in 1895, was Dr. King’s home for the first 12 years of his life. The house is in Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue Historic District and is a federal landmark.

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