EL MONTE, Calif. (AP) — The FBI and local police are investigating an explosion early Saturday at a Los Angeles-area church that had been the target of protests for its anti-LGTBQ message.
Officers responding around 4:30 a.m. initially thought a vandal had broken the windows of First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, said Lt. Christopher Cano of the city’s police department. Officers then noticed smoke coming from inside, he told reporters at the scene. “Then we realized that the windows were not smashed, that they had actually blown out from some type of explosion,” Cano said.
No injuries were reported, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. Officials didn’t immediately detail the extent of the damage inside the church east of downtown Los Angeles. FBI technicians are working with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department bomb squad and the El Monte Police Department during the initial investigation, Eimiller said.
She said it was premature to call the incident a hate crime, but “that’s always going to be considered as a theory when a house of worship is attacked.” Protestors have repeatedly targeted the church headed by Pastor Bruce Mejia, who has condemned same-sex relationships.
Calls to First Works Baptist Church were unanswered Saturday.
A statement on its website says: “We believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty.” Mejia’s sermons and the church’s stance were called hate speech during public comments at an El Monte City Council meeting, according to the Mercury News.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization specializing in civil rights litigation, listed the church on its 2019 watch list of “anti-LBGTQ hate groups.” An online petition by a group called Keep El Monte Friendly that calls for the church to be kicked out of the city had more than 14,000 signatures as of Saturday morning.