Officials are investigating if fires in Baltimore which put three people in hospital early Wednesday morning were deliberate arson attacks on the LGBTQ community.
Authorities say two of the hospitalized victims have since been released.
Crews were called to the fires in the city’s northern Abell neighborhood shortly after 4.30am on Wednesday (June 15) where firefighters discovered four homes ablaze, Baltimore TV station WJZ reports.
Baltimore Police officials initially said investigators believed the fire that damaged four homes began when at least one Pride flag was set on fire, however an update from authorities now states there were two separate incidents on the same street in Abell.
All four of the effected houses were occupied but, thankfully, the residents managed to escape on their own.
“Some of our neighbors heard a loud boom and I came running down the street. We didn’t even see them we’re just concerned they were not going to be pulled out in bags,” Joseph McGary told WMAR-2 News.
Three people – a 74-year-old man, a 57-year-old man and 30-year-old woman – were injured by the blaze. Fire Chief Niles Ford shared a statement on the victims, saying:
“We pray for the three individuals that were hurt and seriously injured in this event, we pray for their health,” said Ford. “It is terrible whenever we have fires. I’m very thankful for the job that our members did.”
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s office said in a news release that the incidents incidents were separate, clarifying earlier reports that they were linked. A Baltimore Police spokesperson initially told ABC News that “officers were informed that the Pride flag was set on fire at the location.”
Last night, here in Maryland, someone set fire to a pride flag in front of a home. 3 homes burned down.
2 people are in critical condition as a result.
It is being investigated as a hate crime.
It’s scary to see violent anti-LGBTQ hate so close to where I live. pic.twitter.com/QSXWywjBon
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) June 15, 2022
Mayor Brandon Scott said on Wednesday that it is too early to determine if the incident was a hate crime.
“[M]y agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “Regardless, I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”
Police are investigating if the fires began as a result of “malicious burning” but have not yet determined a motive, according to officials. There were initial reports that police were investigating the matter as a hate crime, but Police Commissioner Michael Harrison urged the media to hold off on any such assumptions.
“This is an ongoing investigation to determine facts, to determine the cause, and right now we’re not prepared or equipped to determine cause or the facts of how it started,” he said.
Residents of the area WMAR that they believed one of the homes may have been targeted because of a Pride banner on its porch.
“When I came around the corner with the dog this morning, it was like 4:20, all of the porches, roofs were on fire, which is what the banner was attached to,” said Sherry Fennimore.
WMAR also reports that the first was a home where a Pride flag was set on fire, according to police, and a home across the street with Pride decor was then set on fire, injuring three people.
The investigation continues.
Update: 2 victims have now been released from the hospital; the third victim upgraded to stable.
Still no official conclusion this was motivated by hate
Council member Ramos says 4 fires intentionally set—the townhomes, Pride flag and a car and dumpster across Greenmount @wjz pic.twitter.com/6330iAkupO
— Mike Hellgren (@HellgrenWJZ) June 15, 2022