When a fire broke out at the Islamic Center in Houston, a store front mosque attended by many in that city’s Muslim community, on Christmas Day, the natural assumption was that it was a hate crime. The narrative took a hit when the Houston Chronicle reported on Wednesday that Gary Nathaniel Moore, a self-described devout Muslim and a worshiper at the Mosque, was arrested on the charge of arson. Now the motive for the alleged crime is considered “unclear.” Moore claims to have been attended the Mosque for past five years and has been praying there five times a day, seven days a week as prescribed for devout Muslims in the Koran.
“Using surveillance video from multiple businesses nearby, investigators were able to identify Moore, according to records. A search warrant of his home was conducted, and investigators recovered a backpack and clothing similar to that which was seen in surveillance footage, as well as half of a two-pack of charcoal lighter-fluid bottles that seemed to match another lighter fluid bottle found inside the mosque.
“A team of 30 investigators worked around the clock investigating the cause of the fire, which was found to have multiple points of origin. Moore was even interviewed by investigators at the mosque the day of the fire. He had attended services there earlier that day, according to Ruben Hernandez, chief arson investigator with the city’s fire department.
“After collecting evidence, reviewing surveillance video and executing a search warrant, the fire department’s arson bureau and the ATF made a joint arrest around 1:30 am Wednesday at Moore’s house, where he lives with his wife and kids, according to Hernandez. Moore was charged with first-degree arson, a felony. A motive has not been determined.”
The news that the suspected arsonist is a devout Muslim and not, to coin a phrase used by actor Samuel L. Jackson, a “crazy white man” has caused some consternation in the media. The Daily Caller reported that a piece in Salon, which originally speculated that the arson was a hate crime, was suddenly taken down. The article was replaced, in due course, by a modified report that correctly noted Moore’s background and deleted the speculation.
The lesson, to be noted by all journalists, is that the creation of an easy narrative too quickly can lead to later embarrassment. It should be noted that even though Moore did attend Friday services at the mosque, he is not considered a regular there as he is not a dues paying member of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston. Details of the alleged crime are still subject to investigation by the District Attorney’s office in Houston.