A 42-year-old Cape Girardeau man has been charged with arson following a fire at the Islamic Center, 298 N. West End Blvd., Cape Girardeau, on April 24.
Nicholas John Proffitt faces three charges from the Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office: the class B felony of burglary in the first degree, the class B felony of arson in the first degree and the class D felony of property damage in the first degree-hate crime.
In addition, Proffitt faces federal charges for maliciously damaging a building by means of a fire. He appeared in court on April 30 for his initial appearance in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Abbie Crites-Leoni.
According to the probable cause statement, the Center’s video security system observed Proffitt throwing multiple objects through a glass window, causing it to break at approximately 4:50 a.m. on Friday, April 24. Proffitt then threw two containers into the Center through the broken window and stepped through to enter the Center.
Proffitt then picked up the containers and splashed liquid in the lobby of the Center. After Proffitt ignited the fire, the blaze grew rapidly, threatening the occupants who resided in apartments above the Islamic Center.
Using the video surveillance equipment from the Islamic Center, investigators were able to develop a physical profile of the subject. Investigators then canvassed the area for additional video surveillance, which showed the suspect operating a red 2001 Ford Escape on several nearby streets.
When investigators located the vehicle, the person possessing it at that time was determined to be a witness who identified the suspect in the arson case as Proffitt. The witness further stated that Proffitt had a history of making “anti-Muslim” derogatory remarks, the probable cause statement said.
In May 2009, Proffitt was previously arrested for property damage discrimination 1st degree and was later convicted. That case involved throwing rocks at the Islamic Center door and damaging a vehicle in the parking lot.
The Cape Girardeau Fire Department dispatched four engines, one ladder truck and a battalion chief to the fire at the Islamic Center at 4:52 a.m. on April 24. Automatic aid was provided by one fire engine each from Jackson, Scott City and Gordonville fire departments.
Units arrived to find moderate fire on the first floor with extension to the second floor apartments.
Everyone was out of the building on arrival and no civilians or firefighters were injured.
The fire was contained after about an hour. Units were on scene performing overhaul by removing burnt debris and checking for hidden fires for an additional two hours.
Four families were displaced by the fire. There was moderate to heavy damage to the building and contents. The damage was estimated at $145,000.
Proffitt is being held without bail.
“To people of faith in our nation, houses of worship are sacred places,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Attacks against houses of worship are attacks against people of faith and their right to exercise their religion freely and without fear. The Justice Department will defend the right of all people in our country to exercise their religion, no matter the creed.”
“I extend my sincere thanks to all law enforcement agencies involved for their quick and effective response to this serious crime,” said U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen for the Eastern District of Missouri.
“The fact this fire damaged a place of worship during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is especially harmful,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard Quinn of the FBI St. Louis Division. “Protecting the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of color or creed, is one of the top priorities of the FBI.”
“ATF has a long tradition of fire and arson investigation,” Marino Vidoli, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Kansas City Field Division. “In no case is that expertise more critical than a fire such as this. When a house of worship is intentionally damaged by fire, it is not only that congregation that suffers, but the entire community. Religious centers, churches and mosques are often at the center of our neighborhoods, offering sanctuaries of peace and caring to those in need. Today’s complaint is an example of local, state and federal law enforcement coming together to support our communities.”