Cape Girardeau Islamic Center arson suspect to appear before a federal judge

Published: Apr. 30, 2020 at 6:05 AM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - A Cape Girardeau man accused of setting fire to the Islamic Center on North West End Boulevard in Cape Girardeau is facing state and federal charges.

Nicholas John Proffitt, 42, was federally charged with arson on Wednesday, April 29,

According to U.S. Attorney Keith Sorrel, a federal judge ruled Wednesday on his motion to take Proffitt into their custody.

Proffitt will make his first appearance before a federal judge Thursday, April 30 at 11:30 a.m. by video conference from the Cape Girardeau County Jail.

According to a federal criminal complaint, the Islamic Center’s surveillance video Proffitt could allegedly be seen throwing multiple objects through a glass window, which caused the window to break. Two containers were observed being thrown threw the broken window.

The complaint states Proffitt then entered through the Center’s broken window, splashed liquid from the containers inside the Center and ignited the liquid, which caused the building to catch fire.

Sorrel said he is in discussions with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice as to whether a hate crime charge is warranted in Proffitt’s case.

In the meantime, Cape County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Welker said, “due to Proffitt being in federal custody, his state court appearance will be postponed until a later date.”

Proffitt, was arrested at 6: 40 p.m. on April 27 in connection with a suspicious fire that occurred on Friday, April 24 at the Islamic Center.

Proffitt was charged with felony burglary in the first degree, felony arson in the first degree and property damage in the first degree - hate crime.

If found guilty on all three state charges, Proffitt could face a maximum of 37 years behind bars.

Cape County Prosecutor Mark Welker labeled the incident a hate crime, saying Proffitt was motivated by the religion of the people who worship at the facility.

According to a probable cause statement, a witness who helped police identify Proffitt as a suspect says he has a history of making “Anti-Muslim derogatory remarks.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) stated they welcome the arrest of Proffitt and in addition to the state charges, they urge federal authorities to file hate crime charges against the suspect.

Court records show this is not the first time Proffitt has been accused of a hate crime against the Islamic Center.

Proffitt was sentenced to three years behind bars for throwing rocks through the windows of the center in 2009, which damaged the center an a car parked near the building.

Proffitt is being held without bond at the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

A fundraiser for the Islamic Center is being held this weekend.

Earlier on Monday, the Cape Girardeau police asked for the public’s help in identifying the alleged suspect in connection to the fire at the Islamic Center.

Police released a picture on social media and believed the suspect was wearing a dark-colored sweatshirt and light-colored pants.

The FBI also offered a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for setting fire to the place of worship.

The State Fire Marshal, ATF, FBI and Cape Girardeau Police started their investigation into the cause of the fire shortly after crews were able to control the flames and smoke.

The Perryville Police Department also assisted in the investigation.

According to Sgt. Joey Hann with the Cape Girardeau Police Department, they are investigating it as a potential arson.

Witnesses told officials they did see people in the area.

Police asked for anyone who drove by the area shortly before 5 a.m. to contact them and to speak with detectives.

Thursday night, April 23 was the start of Ramadan, which is part of the five pillars of Islam. For 30 days followers fast and do not eat or drink from sunup to sundown.

The Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for the fire.

“Because the fire was deemed ‘suspicious,’ and because it occurred at a house of worship on a significant religious date, we urge law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for the blaze,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.

The Missouri Division of Fire Safety is part of joint local-state-federal probe of this suspicious fire in Cape...

Posted by Governor Mike Parson on Friday, April 24, 2020

Fire crews were called to the Islamic Center at approximately 5 a.m. on Friday.

According to Cape Girardeau Fire Chief Travis Hollis, it was not clear what started the fire, but he believed it started at the front door and considered the fire to be suspicious.

Chief Hollis said the building had significant damage to the front entrance and on the second floor.

The structure on West End Blvd. was evacuated, including tenants living in the apartments on the second floor.

As crews battled the fire, smoke could be seen coming out of several second story windows.

Crews were called to an early morning fire at the Islamic Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo. ...
Crews were called to an early morning fire at the Islamic Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Source: KFVS/Jordin Wyatt)((Source: KFVS/Jordin Wyatt))

Everyone made it out of the building safely and all have been accounted for.

None of the tenants or firefighters were injured.

Chief Hollis said at one time there was a “Mayday” call after one of the firefighters got disoriented due to the layout of the building.

The building used to be a grocery store.

Approximately four people have been displaced by the fire.

Crews were called to an early morning fire at the Islamic Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Crews were called to an early morning fire at the Islamic Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo.((Source: KFVS/Jordin Wyatt))

Area fire departments also responded to the scene.

Crews from Gordonville, Jackson and Scott City assisted with mutual aid.

The City Cape Girardeau Municipal Government released a video, sending love.

Our community sends their love to the Islamic Center Of Cape Girardeau Mo. who lost their place of worship to a suspicious fire this morning. We are one Cape as our hearts ache with yours.

Posted by City of Cape Girardeau Municipal Government on Friday, April 24, 2020

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