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Bail for Synagogue Fire Suspect Set at $20,000

Matthew Amiot is currently being held on a charge of first-degree arson in the St. Louis County Jail. Formal charges are pending.  Matthew Amiot is currently being held on a charge of first-degree arson in the St. Louis County Jail. Formal charges are pending.  |  Photo: St. Louis County Jail

WDIO-TV
Updated: September 16, 2019 02:17 PM

Authorities said at a news conference on Sunday that they don't believe there was any hate crime motivation in the synagogue fire case.

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Matthew James Amiot was arrested last Friday, and authorities confirmed Sunday that the arrest was in connection with the Sept. 9 fire at the synagogue.


Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said Matthew James Amiot was located, interviewed, and arrested Friday afternoon in downtown Duluth.

Tusken said police have no reason to believe this was a hate crime at this time but that may change as the investigation continues. Tusken adds that police are recommending that prosecutors charge Amiot with first-degree arson.

Tusken said they originally interviewed two people of interest on Monday morning.  Later on Amiot was identified as the only person of interest. Police continued with collection of evidence and surveillance video and continued to follow up on leads.

Tusken said they had consultation and review of the investigation Friday with assistant St. Louis County Attorney Victoria Wanta. The decision was made at that time to arrest Amiot.

Tusken added that Amiot gave a statement to police but they don't know yet what his alleged motive was in starting the fire.

"Sometime's it's something we never will know, but as our investigation progresses, we hope to have more answers for the community," said Tusken. 

"It's shocking the fact that it ended up being an arson. That was not expected at all," said Rabbi Mendy Ross, the director of Chabad in Duluth.

"All I can do is comfort people and say that true Judaism is in the heart it's not in the building and our legacy will go along with our hearts," said Phillip Sher, the former president of Adas Israel synagogue.

Sher added that the scene remains a dangerous area and is asking people to stay away from the synagogue.  Sher also said the congregation is asking the public to withhold from giving them funds, saying different fundraisers were started on their behalf. 

"The last thing we want to do is take people's hard earned money when we may not need it. We don't know yet, but if the time comes that we do, we will make a public announcement at that time," said Sher.

Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj says the point of origin for the fire was outside of the synagogue in the congregations sukkah, a smaller building next to the synagogue. 

Krizaj says no accelerants were found at the scene. He added that the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were called to help in the investigation because that's a standard protocal for any place of worship.

"We found no accelerants. We verified that with mechanical detection device and a certified arson dog," said Krizaj. "I think that's usually an indication of people's intent if they want to start a fire. Accelerants are usually a common theme we would find."

A City of Duluth spokesperson says the firefighter who was injured in the fire is Capt. Ben Gasner, who has been with the department for 19 years.

Krizaj said Gasner is still recovering from symptoms of concussion at home. He added that Gasner is doing well at this time.

Amiot is currently being held on a charge of first-degree arson in the St. Louis County Jail. Formal charges are pending. Tusken said a criminal complaint will come out sometime throughout the week.

Amiot has had run-ins with police in the past. Online court records show multiple theft and trespassing charges. Police said he has no permanent address. 

"I will not speculate to the man’s motives. As a matter of fact, I would warn everyone you're proven innocent until proven guilty," said Sher.

"On Monday afternoon I stood before you and could not promise an outcome, but what I could guarantee is I could promise you a professional, dedicated, thorough and earnest investigation that is equal to the significance of this loss in our community," said Tusken.

Members from the Jewish community expressed gratitude for everyone's support and said they'll remain resilient throughout this process. 

"We're going to move forward the only way we know how, which is to spread light. You can't fight darkness with a stick, the only way to fight darkness is with light. We're going to continue to double down on our efforts of being proud to be Jewish here in Duluth," said Ross.

Ross said their should not be fear among the Jewish community and encourages them to show up in big numbers for the upcoming holidays.

"We should not be afraid to be Jewish. We live in a very welcoming country. The United States of America has been unbelievable to the Jewish people and allowing us to practice our religion freely," said Ross.

Sher said the congregation is making arrangements to begin services again soon. He said they'll be at a variety of places until they find a permanent home.

This is still an active and open investigation, and anyone with information is asked to call the Duluth Police Department at 218-730-5020.

Any notes that the public would like to send the Adas Israel Congregation can be sent to:

Kate Van Daele

City of Duluth

Room 402

Care of: Adas Isreal Congregation

411 West First Street

Duluth, MN 55802

The Congregation is planning on setting up a P.O. Box in the future, but the City of Duluth says in the meantime they would appreciate any mail being sent to one address.

Anything sent to the City of Duluth will be delivered personally.

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