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Still no leads in Wasilla church arson

Joshua Saul

A year ago someone set fire to Wasilla Bible Church. Today, that person is still out there.

The Wasilla Police Department is leading the ongoing investigation, but none of the leads they've chased so far have ended up panning out.

"The investigation is still open, and we're still asking the public to contact us if anybody has heard anything," Deputy Chief Greg Wood said.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the state fire marshal's office both assisted in the initial investigation, and the state crime laboratory collected evidence at the scene.

An ATF press release issued a few days after the fire said an accelerant had been poured around the church in multiple locations, including the building's exits. Five women were inside when the fire broke out, but they were able to exit safely, according to a Matanuska-Susitna Borough press release.

According to that press release, then-Gov. Sarah Palin and her family attend Wasilla Bible Church, although the release quotes Fire Chief James Steele as saying the Central Mat-Su Fire Department had "no information that the fire was politically motivated."

Immediately after the fire, church members were able to save parts of the building from further damage by shutting off water pipes and boarding up exposed parts of the building, said Pastor Larry Kroon, who has been the pastor at Wasilla Bible Church for 31 years.

After the fire, the congregation held Sunday services at Wasilla Middle School for two months before moving back into the church in February. By May the entire building was repaired and usable, according to Kroon.

Kroon said the rebuilding went quickly thanks to contractors in the congregation and the fast work of the church's insurance company. Still, there are a few scars left over, including some singed concrete and an occasional odor of smoke.

"Every once in a while, on a very hot summer day, there's parts of the building where you can pick up just a little bit of that smoke smell," Kroon said.

While the church is rebuilt and the congregation is back in its pews, investigators are still searching for whomever set the fire almost a year ago.

"We don't have any new leads right now, but we're still looking," Wood said.

Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul_alaskadispatch.com.