A fire that community members thought might be due to construction has now been deemed an intentional act of arson by police. Officials said Thursday a fire that destroyed a Planned Parenthood building in Tennessee on New Year's Eve was intentionally set.
The fire was so “heavy” that by the time the Knoxville fire department crew reached the site, flames were coming out of the roof, resulting in the entire building being damaged. Luckily no one was injured as the building had been closed since Dec. 7 for renovation, according to Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood for Tennessee and North Mississippi.
“This is a huge loss for the community, and we hope that there are no resulting injuries or damage to neighboring properties,” Coffield said of the incident.
She added: “This is an appalling and heartbreaking act of violence towards Planned Parenthood, our patients, and our community. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have mourned at this health center.”
While last week investigators said it was too early to know what caused the fire, by Thursday a joint investigation by the Knoxville fire department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives determined that the fire was intentionally set.
“KFD’s firefighters worked tirelessly last Friday to extinguish this fire, and our fire investigators, with assistance from ATF, TBI, and Knox County fire investigators, have worked meticulously over the last week and will continue to investigate this fire,” Fire Chief Stan Sharp said.
As no suspect has been identified, authorities have offered a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the prosecution of anyone involved in the fire.
The fire comes after another incident of hate toward the center in January 2021 during which someone fired a shotgun at the doors of the clinic, shattering the glass and peppering the reception area with holes, the Associated Press reported. In that incident too, the clinic was closed and unoccupied. What’s worse is the incident took place on the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade case. The recent arson incident comes at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could possibly overturn the landmark precedent.
Both attacks are seen as more than just attacks on the building itself.
"It must be made clear that these hateful acts go much further than property damage — they harm the patients who depend on safe Planned Parenthood health centers, staff, and providers to receive trusted, essential health care services," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Despite the heartache and shock of the incident, Planned Parenthood officials have stayed strong, promising to rebuild and continue their work.
"While the investigation continues, Planned Parenthood now turns towards recovery and renewal,” Coffield said, according to CNN. "Our priority is to establish a safe operating site and reconvene services for our patients as soon as we possibly can. Although it will take time to rebuild, we are committed to our patients in East Tennessee and will not let this attack take away the essential health care services on which they rely.”
Prior to the fire, the temporary closure sent dozens of patients to the Knox County Health Department and the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, CBS News affiliate WVLT-TV reported. Patients are encouraged to continue to use these facilities until the new center is built.
Published with permission from Daily Kos.