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Lynn police seek public help in arson probe

As members consider where to rebuild El Siloe Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Lynn police released photos this week of a person they believe may have set the fire that destroyed the building.

The 118-year-old church had been vandalized eight times in the four months before the May 22 arson, most recently on May 17, when church surveillance cameras captured footage of a male smashing church windows with what appears to be a long pipe, police said.

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Lynn police Lieutenant Chris Kelly said that because the church was vandalized systematically and in a similar fashion each time, mostly windows smashed out overnight, police think the same person might have been involved in all of the incidents, culminating in the arson. No motive is known, he said.

The video reportedly shows a male of average build smashing church windows. Lynn police have shared still images from the footage on Twitter, Facebook, and at the station, Kelly said, in hope that someone will recognize him.

“We’re hoping the community can come together and assist us with this very senseless crime, the burning of a place of worship,” Kelly said. He added that investigators are working to enhance video captured the night of the fire to identify the arsonist.

The three-alarm fire, which began about 5 a.m., could not be contained. The church had undergone $180,000 of renovations in 2004; an organ and a video projection system were lost in the fire.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal, which is investigating the fire with the Lynn police and Fire Department arson squads, is offering $5,000 for information about the burning.

In the meantime, Abner Polynice, first elder of the church, said members have been meeting in the basement of the Lynn Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church. He said the congregation has not decided whether they will rebuild in the same location or look for buildings or space elsewhere.

Still, both Polynice and Sem Omeler, the pastor, said they would prefer to move the church into a bigger space to accommodate a growing membership. Omeler said that some services have attracted as many as 140 people.

“We are very sorry to have lost our church,” Omeler said. “But we’re still alive, and we hope to have a bigger place to worship.” Omeler added that there is no timeline for a move.

Polynice said some members are angry their church was targeted, while others are sad or scared. Church member Jean Timolien said news of the arson left him feeling lost and heartbroken.

“I have been in this church for 13 years, and now I feel churchless,” he said. “I’m hoping police will find out why someone would set fire to a church, a place where people go to pray. I am waiting for answers.”

Nikita Lalwani can be reached at nikita.lalwani@globe.com.
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