The Huyen Trang Buddhist meditation center in New Caney, Texas, north of Huston, was the target of a firebomb on November 5, according to a statement from local authorities. Surveillance footage from the temple, released Tuesday, shows a man wearing a hat, gloves and a backpack approaching the temple around 21:45 p.m. The individual was carrying a can of gasoline, turned the gun on the temple porch and threw him through an open window. He quickly fled as flames engulfed the meditation center.
Susan Nguyen, a Vietnamese Buddhist nun who has overseen the temple for five years, was awakened by the fire. She helped others put out the flames and temporarily left the temple, which traditionally welcomes Buddhist and non-Buddhist visitors for prayer and meditation.
When questioned, Nguyen expressed her apprehension: “I can't sleep because I'm afraid. I don't know why he did that. (Chron)
Nguyen told reporters that his mission at the temple was to help educate the community about meditation and peace. She added that she wasn't angry, but didn't know why anyone would do that: “I help people. I'm not doing anything wrong. (ABC13)
During the incident, a Buddhist monk residing in the temple used a mat to put out the fire, while another monk used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames in the temple's worship area. No injuries were reported.
Subsequently, deputies from the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office were called to the scene, followed by the arrival of fire marshals and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which opened an arson investigation. Law enforcement has not yet identified a suspect.
According to Montgomery County Fire Marshal's Office Assistant Fire Marshal Kevin Bates, evidence was still being analyzed to link the individual to the Molotov cocktail.
In response to the incident, the sheriff's and fire marshal's offices jointly released surveillance footage of the attacker approaching the temple. Sheriff Rand Henderson issued a statement affirming the unity of the community against any threat to peace and harmony, and emphasizing his commitment to safeguarding religious freedoms and the safety of citizens. They pledged to vigorously pursue justice against anyone who endangers the religious freedom of those who practice peacefully. The public was encouraged to remain patient and cooperative as the investigation unfolded and to provide any information that could assist authorities.
In his statement, Henderson noted: “Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our citizens, and we assure you that every effort is being made to clarify this situation. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to support each other, embrace our diversity and unite against any form of hatred or discrimination. (Chron)
During an interview, Bates noted that it was unclear whether the attack would be classified as a hate crime, saying, "We're not ruling anything out, but we're investigating it as arson." Then we'll let the information dictate the direction of the investigation as we get it. (Chron)
Nguyen noted a previous mobile home fire on temple property in November 2022, expressing concern that it could be linked to the recent fire.
Bates confirmed that the Fire Marshal's Office investigated the fire behind the temple last year, but the cause of the fire remained undetermined due to lack of evidence and information. A nun at the temple expressed concern that the two fires were linked to a recent increase in crimes against Buddhist temples in the United States.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting in the investigation into whether federal laws were violated. The suspect is described as a white or light-skinned man and was seen on surveillance video wearing a dark baseball cap, black boots and carrying a backpack.