FT PIERCE (CBSMiami) – The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed an arrest has been made in Sunday’s Fort Pierce mosque fire.
Officials identified the accused arsonist as Joseph Michael Schreiber at a press conference Wednesday.
Authorities called the arrest “uneventful” as they picked Schreiber up off side of the street at around 5:15 p.m.
The sheriff’s office said a tip from a community member made Tuesday night led to Schreiber’s identification.
Maj. David Thompson of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said a search warrant was executed at Schreiber’s home, where investigators reported finding evidence linked to the arson, as well as anti-Islamic social media posts.
A post placed on Schreiber’s Facebook page in July stated that, “IF AMERICA truly wants peace and safety and pursuit of happiness they should consider all forms of ISLAM as radical. … ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL, and should be considered TERRORIST AND CRIMANALS (sic) and all hoo (sic) participate in such activity should be found guilty of WAR CRIM (sic) until law and order is restored in this beautiful free country.”
Schreiber is known to law enforcement and qualifies as a habitual offender.
Thompson said the arson charge, coupled with a hate crime enhancement under Florida law, carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. He added detectives were still questioning Schreiber on Wednesday evening, and he didn’t say if Schreiber had a lawyer.
The sheriff’s office obtained surveillance video that showed someone drive up in a motorcycle and intentionally set fire to the Fort Pierce Islamic Center.
Schreiber owns a motorcycle consistent with that seen in Mosque surveillance video.
Wilfredo Ruiz, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida, said Schreiber “obviously doesn’t know about the efforts our community is engaged in with our cousins, the Jews, not only in Florida but throughout the nation.”
Mosque officials allowed CBS4 cameras inside to see the portion of the building burned out and heavily damaged by the fire.
Ruiz hopes Schreiber’s arrest is a deterrent to others who consider crimes against religious groups.
“An attack on a place of worship like this, on a mosque, is not really an attack on a mosque,” Ruiz said. “It’s an attack on all the places of worship in Florida.”
Not only did it happen on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but on the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, the second of two major holidays in Islam.
More fuel in this arson, this is the same mosque that Orlando gunman Omar Mateen once attended.
Omar Saleh, an attorney for CAIR, described both Schreiber and Mateen as “degenerates” and “punks.”
“Just like on June 12, when I was stressing that Mateen’s actions do not speak on behalf of Islam, I know that whatever religion Mr. Schreiber is, his actions do not speak on behalf of his religion,” Saleh said.
Mateen was killed by police after opening fire at the Pulse nightclub on June 12 in a rampage that left 49 victims dead and 53 wounded. He professed allegiance to the Islamic State group. His father is among roughly 100 people who attend the mosque.
The fire was part of an escalating series of threats and violence perpetuated against the mosque and its members, Ruiz said. He said the mosque began receiving threatening phone calls shortly after the Pulse massacre. And in July, he said, a member was punched in the face as he arrived for morning prayers.
Sunday’s fire has left the mosque’s members “saddened and scared,” said assistant imam Hamaad Rahman.
Despite the damage, Islamic leaders say they hope the end result of this act is a greater understanding of Islam and a lesson that Islam is a religion of peace.
“Ask more questions about Muslims and Islam,” Saleh said. “Because maybe if they do that, we will find some common similarities.”