The FBI is investigating a suspicious fire that occurred at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, Missouri, on Sunday as a potential hate crime.
Anyone who provides information about the incident could receive a $10,000 award, the FBI said.
Someone wearing dark clothing was captured on surveillance video walking onto Planned Parenthood’s grounds at 4:05 a.m., the FBI said. A minute later, a fire alarm at the clinic was set off by a small blaze, Columbia Police said. The same person was later seen on video leaving the grounds as smoke spread from the building.
An assistant fire marshal determined that the fire was suspicious and alerted the police, Columbia Police said.
The FBI handles potential federal civil rights violations, which include breaches of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The FACE Act makes it a crime for people to intentionally damage or interfere with a facility because it offers reproductive health services. The agency has opened a hate crime investigation, it said in a statement.
Clinic to reopen
“The circumstances surrounding the fire are coming into focus, and it is clear that this was an intentional effort to damage our facility in order to disrupt services and block patient access to sexual and reproductive health care,” Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO Brandon J. Hill said in a statement.
No one was in the building during the fire, and the building’s sprinkler system extinguished it.
The Columbia Planned Parenthood health center has closed for repairs but aims to reopen by next week. The clinic offers services including family planning, STD testing and treatment and transgender care.
The Columbia clinic stopped offering abortions in October 2018 after Missouri passed a law that required abortion providers to secure admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic is the only place in the state that currently provides abortions.
Hill said Planned Parenthood will not be discouraged by the fire.
“Make no mistake – we are committed to providing care in the Columbia community, and this crime will not deter us from our mission. Our patients rely on us each day, and with a strong community of supporters beside us, we will reopen our doors as soon as possible.”