Santaquin church building vandalized and set ablaze on Thursday morning
Vandals set fire to a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Thursday morning, causing extensive damage to the old red brick building on 200 East and 100 South in Santaquin.
According to Santaquin Police Chief Dennis Howard, the 911 call came in at 4:30 a.m. from a citizen and Santaquin’s volunteer fire crews had the fire contained in approximately 30 minutes. Fire crews from Payson City and Genola were also called out.
External damage from the fire was minimal, but the blaze made its way through two floors of the south interior of the building. The chapel, which is located on the north end of the meetinghouse, was not drastically affected.
The fire is being investigated as arson and state fire marshals were on hand this morning to work with the Santaquin Police Department. Santaquin Detective Stan Eggen is part of the investigative team and was on scene collecting possible fingerprints.
Eggen said there were signs of vandalism in the areas where the fire started and that it was most likely the work of more than one individual.
“It’s obvious that it’s arson,” said Eggen. “They were tearing things up, I think there were at least two of them.”
The Deputy Fire Marshal for the state, Troy Mills, said there is no question that the fire was set intentionally. According to Mills the vandals moved through most of the building, “trashing” it as they went. The fire engulfed the southern end of the building, destroying offices, classrooms, and a Relief Society room.
Images of interior damage of building used with permission
LDS Church officials were also on hand to investigate and although they could not give an estimate on the amount of damage that was done, they did say the building will be closed off for some time.
Mills was not sure of the costs of the damage either, but he estimated it in the millions.
“If I had to guess I’d say $1 million to $1.5 million in damage,” he said. “There is significant damage.”
How the suspects entered the building is still under investigation, it appeared a window on the west side of the building was a possible entry-point. Although much of the evidence authorities need to catch the arsonists may have been lost in the fire, some at the scene were optimistic.
“Sometimes we get lucky and find a fingerprint,” said Eggen. “It may take some time…we’ve been pretty successful in the past.”
Evidence uncovered during the day have been sent up to the state crime lab.
Church leaders from the area will be holding a meeting this evening to solidify decisions regarding the congregations that were meeting in the old stake center. Details on where the three wards from the building will meet will be available tomorrow morning.
One ward that used the building is from the LDS Santaquin Stake where Stake President Bart Olsen presides. Olsen has asked members of his stake to allow Church and City officials to take care of anything regarding the damaged building.
“It will be better if everyone just stayed clear of the building,” said Olsen this afternoon. Damage caused to the structure presents a hazard to those in or around the meetinghouse.
The building is the former stake center for the Santaquin area, meetings for the Santaquin Stake have been moved to the new stake center on 500 West.
Santaquin Mayor James DeGraffenried was also at the scene this morning to survey the damage. He called the incident a “tragedy”.
More details as they become available…
Authorities have asked any citizens with information about this incident to call the Santaquin Police Department: 801-754-1070.
Update: The Fundraiser for Scott LeBaron that was scheduled for this evening in the building is being moved to the stake center on 45 South 500 West.
Note: A plaster sculpture of “The First Vision” that was created in the 40s was untouched by the fire. The piece would be irreplaceable if destroyed, so the fact that it was safe was very fortunate.