UPDATED, May 17:  Federal and state authorities have joined Arlington and Needham police in investigating three fires at homes used for Jewish services. The state fire marshal is calling them arson.

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At a news conference at Arlington police headquarters Friday, May 17, officials announced rewards total $20,000 for information about two fires in town and another in Needham.

A group of rabbis and Jewish leaders joined town and state officials to express support for Jewish congregations.

A second suspicious outdoor fire in five days was reported late Thursday, May 16, at the Lake Street home that is also a synagogue.

Arlington police and fire departments are working with state officials to investigate, a news release said.

Police and fire units responded to 129 Lake St. at 9 p.m. A police officer on patrol in the area arrived within about 30 seconds of the initial call. The officer noticed light flames coming from one side of the house, confined to the wood shingles. The officer used a handheld fire extinguisher to put out the flames.

Acting Chief Juli Flaherty arrived on scene along with shift commander Lt. Brendan Kiernan, and a patrol supervisor. The state Fire Marshal's Office was also requested.

Increased police presence

A full-time detail officer had been placed on Lake Street, but the release did not explain how a fire was set in the light of increased security.

The first fire occurred on Saturday May 11 at 11 p.m. Neither fire caused damage to the inside of the home. 

The Lake Street home hit by a suspicious fire on Saturday, May 11, is the residence of a rabbi and his family as well as the site of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life of Arlington and Belmont.

Rabbi Avi Bukiet confirmed in a telephone interview Wednesday, May 15, that 129 Lake St. was the location of the fire. 

To help pay for increased safety  at Center for Jewish Life, click here >>

He said Naomi Greenfield, cochair of the town's Human Rights Commission, had helped him with a statement to his congregation.

The rabbi and his wife and three children live at the address. 

Police have asked the public to help identify a person shown on surveillance video walking away from a home shortly after a suspicious outdoor fire broke out.

Click here to see the surveillance footage >> 

Police said that at 11 p.m. May 11, Arlington police and fire responded to a home on Lake Street to investigate an activated fire alarm. On arrival, rescuers were met by the the adult male and female homeowners and their three children, who were inside a vehicle parked in the driveway.

The male resident told police that he, his wife and children exited the home after they heard the fire alarm and smelled the odor of smoke. Firefighters located a small fire burning on the wood shingles of one side of the home. The fire was quickly extinguished, and firefighters limited the damage to the exterior shingles only.

A fire department investigator and a police supervisor arrived on scene shortly afterward. They quickly determined that the fire was suspicious.

During the investigation, a neighbor approached police and offered footage from his outdoor security camera. The footage shows a man or woman with a specific gait/posture walking away from the area during the time of the fire.

Police hope someone will recognize the suspicious person or their particularly way of walking, and that public input will lead to their identification.

The initial police report gave no specific address or names. A town resident posted to the Arlington email list early May 15 that, after comparing the appearance of homes on Google Streetview, he believed the address was the site of a synogogue.

In a statement on the afternoon of May 15, Acting Police Flaherty and Health and Human Services Director Christine Bongiorno report that officials in Arlington continue to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding a fire that occurred outside the home of a local rabbi.

'No threats'

The male resident told police that he conducts religious services at his home and that his address, as a religious site, is publicly available on the internet. "He had received no threats and did not notice any suspicious activity in the area recently," the new town statement said.

"At this time, the Arlington Police Department has not uncovered any information or evidence that indicates that the family was targeted or that there was any specific motivation or bias surrounding this incident.

"Nonetheless, the department is leaving open and actively investigating the possibility of a hate crime. No graffiti or other messages were found, and no evidence of chemical accelerants was immediately found," the statement said.

Arlington police are collaborating with other law enforcement agencies to aid in the investigation.

Flaherty commented in the May 15 statement: "Out of respect for the privacy of the resident, in the early phases of this investigation, we did not draw attention to the fact that the resident is a rabbi, but as this investigation has continued and after consulting with the resident and the Arlington Human Rights Commission, we unfortunately have to leave open all possibilities until the investigation is complete.

"We strongly encourage anyone who may have information about this fire or the suspicious person seen leaving the area to contact the Arlington Police Department."

Human-rights statement

The Arlington Police Department has added extra patrols to the area out of an abundance of caution. The Department has also met and is working in collaboration with cultural groups.

Arlington Human Rights Commission Cochair Naomi Greenfield said in the statement: "Arlington is a community that rallies around its own, and we stand ready to support our residents and Arlington's Jewish community in any possible way.

"We are keenly aware of the rise in hate speech and biased-related incidents around the country, though we hope the investigation will conclude that this is not one of them. There is no place in our community to incite fear and threaten the safety and security of our residents on the basis of their beliefs and religious background. We encourage the Arlington community to focus its support on assisting with the investigation if possible and extending support to the affected family and the Center for Jewish Life in Arlington/Belmont." 

Greenfield provided a statement May 15 sent to the congregation the previous evening. It recounts much of is reported here, with this addition:

"While the investigation is ongoing, the APD will be available for directed patrols at the Center to ensure the safety of our family and the community.

"As an added measure of security, during this period in which we are assessing the situation, the APD will have an officer present outside the building during programming this week.

"We wanted to reach out to you, our dear community, to make sure you heard from us before any other media outlet. Your safety and security is incredibly important to us and we are planning to to form a security committee for the Center for Jewish Life to seek out ways to ensure the safety of our community. You are welcome to join this committee.

"In Jewish traditional thought, when something out of the ordinary happens in one’s life it is seen as a moment for new growth for the future. May this be our Mazal."

Added comment

Greenfield added a note to YourArlington:

"While the fire was suspicious in its origin, there is currently no indication that it was motivated by the identity of the homeowners. As you know, the AHRC takes very seriously any incidents of hate in town but at this point, we are asking that the public assist the police in conducting their investigation if possible so that we can get more accurate information as to what happened before jumping to conclusions."

Anyone with information on this incident, or who recognizes the individual in the surveillance video, is asked to contact the Arlington Police Department at 781-643-1212. 

This news announcement was published Tuesday, May 14, 2019. It was turned into a news story May 15 and updated May 17, to add a link.