By Steve Perez
Federal authorities are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who vandalized and intentionally set a fire at the Mormon church in Cardiff last month.
The fire was discovered Monday, Jan. 25, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1444 Lake Dr., a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said.
Parishioners found graffiti spray-painted outside on two different doors of the church. Looking further, they found the remains of a blaze in the church's foyer, with damage estimated at more than $5,000, ATF officers said in a news release.
Investigators with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department Bomb/Arson Unit and the ATF concluded the fire was intentionally set.
An ATF spokesman in San Diego declined to provide further details in an interview Thursday with the Del Mar Times/Solana Beach Sun. Patrick Gorman cited efforts to "protect the integrity of the investigation."
A telephone message left at the church on Thursday morning requesting comment was not immediately returned. In the news release announcing the reward, John Torres, ATF special agent in charge of the Los Angeles field division, described the crime as "heinous."
Authorities did release two photographs of the graffiti and the aftermath of the blaze. They show the doors sprayed with white paint and lettering.
The foyer was vandalized, with chairs, sofas and church leaflets strewn about. The fire damage appears confined to a table set up just outside the entrance to the congregation area.
Authorities believed the vandalism and fire occurred sometime between 8 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 24 and Monday, 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 25. The fire was extinguished by the time officers arrived and no fire department personnel responded to the scene, Gorman said.
The search is now on for information leading to suspects and determining a possible motive for the fire.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore noted that it's possible for tipsters to remain anonymous via the San Diego Crime Stoppers program.
Anyone with information on the crime should contact the ATF at (888) ATF-FIRE or (888) 283-3473. You can also remain anonymous by calling San Diego County Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.