A Thai Buddhist temple in the city of North Las Vegas was the scene of a suspect arson attempt and shooting on Sunday. No casualities were reported in the incident, which police are treating as a possible hate crime, although the gunman was subsequently found dead later on Sunday.
Six residents inside the Thai-Buddhist Temple-Las Vegas, also known as Wat Buddha Pavana, reported that they smelled smoke at around 8 p.m. on 15 December. As they attempted to extinguish the fire, a man appeared and yelled: “I hate you,” before firing gun shots. (KNTV) The suspect then fled and was later found dead in a nearby backyard. He had shot and killed himself, according to Las Vegas Police, who have not released the identity of the suspect.
None of the people present at the temple were hit by the gunfire and all were able to escape the flames unharmed. The suspect is believed to be connected with another fire started in the area on the same evening.
A police spokesperson said it was too early to say whether the fire and shooting were a terrorist act. Agents from the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are reported to be investigating the incident.
“That’s something we look at any time there’s an incident in a religious building,” said Las Vegas police officer Eric Leavitt. (Associated Press)
According to FBI statistics, there were 4,571 reported hate crimes in the United States in 2018, many of them in large cities, involving victims from a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. However, Buddhists are rarely the targets of such attacks.
“The trends show more violence, more interpersonal violence, and I think that’s probably reliable,” said former FBI crime analyst James Nolan, who helped oversee the National Hate Crime Data Collection Program from 1995–2000. (New York Times)
According to the FBI, North Las Vegas police are heading the investigation. An outdoor shrine was badly damaged at the Thai temple, but fire crews were able to douse flames inside the temple doorway before the fire spread inside.
Wat Buddha Pavana, founded in 1992, is located in a residential area about 15 kilometers north of the Las Vegas Strip. The temple is home to a small group of Thai monastics and mostly draws membership from the area’s Thai community, although it welcomes people of all backgrounds and beliefs. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and offers chanting from 4–5 p.m. daily, during which guests can read from a book of Buddhist chants, written in both Thai and English.
“Anyone can meditate,” said meditation teacher Arunee Price at the temple. “After meditation, [you can] pray to Buddha and God, or pray for whoever you believe in . . . you can believe in the sky.” Price, who goes by the nickname Annie, has been attending the temple for several years. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas, best known for its desert heat, brightly lit casinos, and Elvis impersonators, has a number of Buddhist temples and monasteries representing major Buddhist schools from across Asia. These include a Diamond Way Tibetan Buddhist center, Sokka Gakai International (SGI)-USA center, the Kannon Temple of the Nichiren Shu school, the Uu Dam Vietnamese Buddhist Temple, Wat Thongdhammachat Las Vegas and Wat Nevada Dhammaram, also serving mostly Thai Buddhists, and the Zen Temple of Las Vegas, to name a few.
Police: 2 fires in North Las Vegas investigated as arson, suspect shot, killed himself (KTNV Las Vegas)
Police: Monks escape gunfire fleeing Buddhist temple arson (Associated Press)
Hate-Crime Violence Hits 16-Year High, F.B.I. Reports (New York Times)
North Las Vegas’ diversity reflected in its places of worship (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wat Buddha Pavana (Facebook)