STUART, Fla. — A 32-year-old Florida man was charged with a hate crime Wednesday in the arson fire at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, where Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen occasionally worshiped.
Joseph Michael Schreiber of Port St. Lucie was arrested Wednesday in downtown Fort Pierce and charged with arson, according to St. Lucie County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Garry Wilson and Maj. David Thompson. That charge went from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony because of the state’s hate crime enhancement.
“A fire at any place of worship, regardless of your beliefs, is a tragedy,” Wilson said.
There were anti-Islamic sentiments posted on Schreiber's social media accounts and references to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Thompson said.
The arson charge, coupled with a hate crime enhancement under Florida law, could bring up to 30 years in prison in event of a conviction, Thompson said.
The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce sustained extensive damage in a fire set late Sunday on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. The blaze also coincided with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.
Mateen was killed by police after opening fire at the Pulse nightclub 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.
Contributing: The Associated Press