Federal and local authorities are investigating vandalism and an explosion that occurred overnight Saturday at a Los Angeles County church that had recently been the subject of controversy over its language against the LGBTQ community and other minority groups.
According to NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate station, KNBC, the El Monte Police Department and FBI officials responded overnight to reports of an IED attack at the First Works Baptist Church.
Police Chief David Reynoso later Saturday said that an “improvised explosive device” was believed to be the source of the explosion, and that authorities had also found obscenities and the words “get out” spray-painted on the front of the church, according to The New York Times.
Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said authorities have not yet taken anyone into custody in connection with the explosion and that officials have not yet determined a motive.
“We have not ruled anything out,” she added, the Times reported.
KNBC added that there were no injuries reported in the explosion.
The FBI’s field office put out a call on Twitter for public assistance in identifying those responsible for the attack, adding a contact number for people to send in tips with any relevant information.
The FBI responded overnight with @elmontepolice & @LASDHQ to an #IED attack at the First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, CA. Bomb Techs & the FBI’s Evidence Team continue to process the scene. If you have a tip about the responsible party, please call 3104776565. #SeekingInfo pic.twitter.com/LobrjbrZtx
— FBI Los Angeles (@FBILosAngeles) January 23, 2021
According to the Times, Bruce Mejia, the pastor of First Works, reported to police about two weeks ago that it had received an arson threat on social media.
The church has been the subject of criticism in the community, and a petition calling on El Monte’s mayor to recognize the church as a hate group and “take them out of our city,” has received more than 15,000 signatures.
First Works is part of the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement, an international network of churches that the Southern Poverty Law Center noted contains individuals who have called for the executions of LGBTQ people.
In 2019, Meija was among a list of speakers at a “Make America Straight Again” conference in Orlando, Fla., two days after the third anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre.
According to the Times, Meijia has also claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement has a “wicked agenda,” and has characterized women as inherently “weak.”
Local LGBTQ rights organization Keep El Monte Friendly initially had a protest planned at the church Saturday morning, but later cancelled the event in response to the bombing.
“We are in profound shock and hope that no one was hurt during this tragedy,” the group wrote in a statement on Instagram. “Our movement was intended to bring light and awareness to the hateful rhetoric taught by this group. We understand that what they preach can make people upset. However, we would never promote, encourage or condone any violence or acts of harm.”
Reynoso added Saturday, “in no way can we say anyone related to the demonstrations is involved or responsible for this crime.”