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Man Who Prayed At Houston Mosque Charged With Setting Christmas Day Fire

Arson investigators arrested Gary Nathanial Moore, 37, early Wednesday in connection with the Christmas Day fire at the Wilcrest Masjid in southwest Houston

Houston Mayor Annise Parker speaks at a podium during a press conference. She is joined by interim Houston Fire Chief Rodney West (L) and Congressman Al Green (R).
Houston Mayor Annise Parker speaks at a podium during a press conference. She is joined by interim Houston Fire Chief Rodney West (L) and Congressman Al Green (R).

The suspect, Gary Nathanial Moore, regularly attended prayers at the storefront mosque in the Savoy retail center in southwest Houston, officials said.

Moore was arrested at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. But was first interviewed outside the mosque last Friday, just after the fire was put out, according to Ruben Hernandez, chief investigator in the city’s Arson Bureau.

“He gave a statement initially at the fire scene that he was there, the last person to leave the mosque, and that he left at a certain time,” Hernandez said. “Through our investigation, we found those times were wrong.”

Mosque Fire Accused
Gary Nathanial Moore, 37, of Houston, is accused of starting the Christmas Day fire at a mosque.

Investigators explained they have video evidence from the strip mall where the mosque is located, evidence from inside the mosque, and also evidence from a search of Moore’s home. They said the evidence is still being tested and released no further details about how the fire was set, except to say it began at “multiple points” inside the mosque.  

Moore hasn’t admitted to setting the fire, and so officials wouldn’t speculate about a possible motive.

“You may never know unless he decides to talk, we may never know a true motive on this,” said Robert Elder, who heads the Houston Field Division of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

“Obviously, the motive is hatred towards something or somebody – why else would you go burn a place that is not bothering anyone?” Elder added.

The ATF has federal jurisdiction over fires at houses of worship, and ATF agents worked alongside Houston Fire Department investigators.

“In reality, whether he was a member of the mosque, or not, is irrelevant to the fact that he is believed to have gone into this place and committed the crime of arson,” Elder said. “So we really don’t look at member or non-member, he’s an individual that committed a crime and we’re going to bring him to justice.”

At a Houston City Hall press conference, outgoing mayor Annise Parker and interim Fire Chief Rodney West praised investigators for the quick arrest, and for their work during the holidays.

Hernandez thanked the owners of businesses in the same strip mall as the mosque, saying they provided critical information that led to the arrest.

The mosque was on South Wilcrest, in the Congressional district of Democrat Al Green.

“A fire or the burning of one place of worship is the burning of all places of worship,” Green said. “And we have to protect one so as to protect all.”

Moore faces a charge of first degree arson, but could face additional charges.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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