Early Saturday morning, a fire gutted the Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas. The images showed flames leaping out beyond the mosque’s domed roof. By morning, that dome and much of what made the mosque recognizable was gone.
The Victoria Advocate reports that the fire attracted international media attention “fueled largely by its timing – only hours after President Donald Trump announced a ban on people from Muslim countries entering the United States.”
The fire’s cause is still under investigation and officials have yet to announce what started it.
Jon Wilcox, reporter for the Victoria Advocate, was on the scene as the mosque burned. He says the building was completely engulfed in flames by the time he got there.
“It was obvious that the structure was going to be destroyed,” he says. “Firefighters were practicing defensive strategies. They backed off of the building because of the fire’s intensity.
“I know the pictures and the videos are quite dramatic, but I’m not even sure that they quite do the fire justice. Just being there, I could look inside the building and through the doorway and it just looked like an absolute inferno.”
This mosque had been a target in 2013 when vandals spray painted “H8” on the exterior – possibly internet slang for “Hate” or a Nazi phrase. In 2001, Wilcox says someone left a decapitated pig’s head on the property.
At the prayer rally later on Saturday, Wilco says as many as 1,000 people gathered at the foot of the destroyed mosque.
“The reaction there was just overwhelming,” he says. “Lots of tears. Very emotional. Support at that rally and also outside the rally … four churches and a synagogue in Victoria have offered the mosque to allow them to use their own property for worship services.”
A GoFundMe account where people can donate money to help rebuild the center has raised almost $1 million in three days, much more than the $850,000 goal.
Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.