The large fire that destroyed a significant portion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fruita is thought to have been set intentionally and federal law enforcement are asking for the community’s help in finding the person responsible.
A reward of up to $10,000 is being offered in relation to fire, which began early Monday morning. A Lower Valley Fire District crew responded just after 4 a.m. to the church building at 417 E. Ottley Ave., Lower Valley Fire District Chief Frank Cavaliere said on the scene Monday. When the crew arrived, the fire had already spread through the main section of the building.
The reward was announced in a press release sent by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Friday afternoon. The release says that both the ATF and FBI have joined the probe into the fire. The Fruita Police Department and the Lower Valley Fire District are also part of the investigation.
Lower Valley Fire District Captain and Fire Investigator Matt Katzenberger said since it is an ongoing investigation details were not being released. However, he said investigators do have some evidence that might lead them to a suspect.
“I can say that there were multiple signs that pointed us to the direction of arson,” Katzenberger said. “I can also say that we collected an amount of DNA and fingerprint evidence that has been sent in for forensic testing at the ATF laboratory, which will also help us in identifying our possible suspect.”
Having access to the tools that are available to federal investigators will help in the investigation, Katzenberger said. The size of the structure presents some challenges that aren’t present in smaller buildings.
“It is a large commercial structure, a large gathering building, so that does create a lot of dynamics that we don’t have, in say a residential structure when we’re doing an investigation,” Katzenberger said.
“That’s part of the reason why we had the joint partnership in this one with the ATF and FBI for additional tools and resources that aren’t available to us here locally.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the ATF Hotline at 1-888-ATF-FIRE / 1-888-283-3473, the FBI tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), the Fruita Police Department at 970-242-6707, or Crime Stoppers of Mesa County at 970-241-STOP
Members of the church said on Monday, before the cause of the fire was revealed, that they were shocked and saddened by the fire.
Aimee Patrick walked with her family to see the damage to the church, which she said she attended the day before.
“It’s shocking and it brings tears,” Patrick said. “It’s sad to see something you love damaged and destroyed. We saw the windows where we were just sitting yesterday morning blown out by the fire.”
Leadership from the Grand Junction Colorado West Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not immediately return a request for comment.