On the morning of March 6th, a fire broke out at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend, Oregon. It was one of seven fires that morning in Bend, and police believe all the fires were the work of a serial arsonist, according to local reports. Such an event would normally not make these pages, but many immigrant activist groups in Oregon believe that the arsonist (or arsonists) set fire to the church because the March for One Oregon immigration reform bus tour kickoff was held at the church on March 5.
After March for One Oregon learned of the fire and completed the bus tour, many immigration activists joined a vigil at the church on March 9 to denounce the arsonist’s acts and send a message of unity. Although there is no clear motive as to why the fire was set, some members of March for One Oregon who attended the vigil shared their thoughts about the fire and the damage it caused.
“When we were marching with the United Farmworkers, we prayed to love those who hate us so we can make change in the world,” said Yesenia Sanchez.
“As soon as I heard about the fire, I identified the church as my own,” said Daniel Jeppesen. “After the incredible sendoff with food, dancing and blessings, I felt responsible to do something.”
“The fire they started here will never be put out in our hearts. They only made us stronger,” said Gary Harris.
Meanwhile, CAUSA Oregon, an immigration rights organization, issued the following statement on March 7:
On Tuesday, Causa and allies for Immigration Reform gathered at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend to urge Congressman Greg Walden to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform with legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants including a path to citizenship. The gathering is part of a 5 day bus tour from March 5th through March 9th to raise up support for immigration reform among residents of rural communities in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District.
At 2:00 am Wednesday morning, it was reported that seven arson fires damaged the historic Trinity Episcopal Church and an adjacent building, two detached garages, two cars and a wood pile. Bend Police also reported that vandalism accompanied the fire. The Oregon State Police, the Oregon State Fire Marshal, the FBI and ATF have been brought in to investigate.
Causa condemns this act of violence —regardless of motive— against the peaceful Trinity Episcopal Church community and Bend residents.
“This thoughtless violence is a tragedy for all who live in this church community, Bend and our State”, said Francisco Lopez, Executive Director of Causa Oregon. “Our hearts go out to members of this church community whom we shared a meal and personal stories with just yesterday. We condemn these acts of violence regardless of the motive and urge anyone who knows those responsible to make it known to police.”
A statement from March for One Oregon was also released a few days after learning of the fire:
The riders on the March for One Oregon were shocked and deeply saddened when we heard about the arson fires suffered by Trinity Episcopal Church and its neighbors Wednesday morning. We had just experienced the gracious hospitality and generosity of the Trinity community in hosting our training meeting Monday evening and our very successful send-off rally Tuesday afternoon.
We are a group of diverse Oregonians marching for a fair and just immigration policy. Some of us have indigenous blood; most of us are descendants of immigrants if not immigrants ourselves. We are ages one to 75, with just about every age group in between. We are from all genders and sexual orientations. We live in economic conditions from impoverished to comfortable. We come from and practice many different religious, spiritual and humane paths, seeking to live out our commitment to compassionate service.
Trinity Episcopal Church has shown extraordinary courage to remain devoted to its long-standing tradition of feeding, clothing and assisting people made poor, homeless and marginalized in our community. This work is an inspiring example of true service to the source of love and compassion that moves us to do this work.
We stand in solidarity with the members and leaders of the Trinity community as part of our One Oregon community as they struggle to face the challenges and difficulties certain to follow this horrific act of violence.
We denounce this and all acts of violence and insist on a timely and rigorous investigation by our local and state officials.
We also refuse to allow this act to deter us from our mission to create One Oregon, all working in Solidarity to bring human dignity to every person. We are determined to ensure that a stronger and better Oregon community arises from this tragedy.
Another local report from March 8 provides additional details about the fire and the fear that something was not right:
Betsy Lamb woke Wednesday morning to see TV footage of flames shooting through the roof of Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend. On Tuesday, Lamb had been at the church attending a kickoff rally for a bus tour that is taking 50 Oregonians through Congressman Greg Walden’s congressional district to advocate for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
After watching footage of the flames engulf the church, Lamb made a last-minute decision to join the tour.
“It just made me sick,” said Lamb.
According to the Associated Press, the fire started about 2 a.m. and police said rocks had been thrown through the windows of the church. The cause has yet to be determined.
“We are asking Congressman Walden to press for a full investigation,” said Lamb.
The March 5-9 March for One Oregon bus tour hopes to bring the conversation about immigration reform to rural communities as well as deliver letters to Congressman Walden’s area offices asking him to take a lead role in supporting immigration reform.
(h/t to NYSAIF.org)