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UPDATE: Port St. Lucie man arrested in mosque fire

By Olivia Hitchcock and Julius Whigham I, For Palm Beach Post, On 21 September 2016, Read Original
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A Port St. Lucie man was arrested Wednesday in connection to an arson this week at a Fort Pierce mosque that officials are calling a likely hate crime.

Joseph Michael Schreiber, 32, was arrested Wednesday evening, 65 hours after a fire was set at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce early Monday, just after the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Schreiber was identified as a suspect after tips from the community were received Tuesday, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office Maj. David Thompson said during a news conference at the sheriff’s office headquarters.

Wilfredo Ruiz, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke outside the Islamic Center of Ft. Pierce on Monday, September 12, 2016. The building was the center of a suspicious fire the night before. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)


Further investigation showed that Schreiber had recently posted online anti-Muslim statements, according to the sheriff’s office.

“The Facebook posts were evident that there is anti-Islamic propaganda and that corroborates our fear that in fact this does have to do with hate for the Islamic community,” Thompson said.

Arson suspect Joseph Schreiber. (Courtesy SLCSO)


Schreiber was being questioned by sheriff’s investigators Wednesday evening and was expected to be booked into the St. Lucie County Jail Wednesday night.

He will be charged with arson and a hate-crime enhancement and faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

Damage to the exterior of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce. (Julius Whigham / Palm Beach Post)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are still investigating and it has not yet been determined whether Schreiber will face federal charges, said Michael D’Alonzo, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI Miami office.

On Wednesday, investigators searched Schreiber’s home in the 5700 block of Northwest Zenith Drive, off Torino Parkway in Port St. Lucie. Video surveillance from businesses and homes matched Schreiber and a motorcycle to video surveillance obtained from the Islamic Center, according to investigators.

A still-frame from security footage at the Islamic Center of Ft. Pierce that shows the man investigators believe set fire to the place of worship during the early hours on Monday. (St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office)

“A search warrant was obtained and a search of Schreiber’s house was conducted that revealed Schreiber owns a motorcycle consistent with the surveillance video footage,” Thompson said. “Other evidence collected also linked Schreiber to the arson.”

Thompson said that Schreiber was known to law-enforcement from previous offenses.

According to state correction records, Schreiber has been imprisoned before — in 2008, for grand theft, and 2010, for petit theft. As a result, he qualifies as a prison release re-offender, which would carry a 30-year minimum mandatory sentence if he were convicted, Thompson said. Schreiber also qualifies as a habitual felony offender and could ultimately be sentenced to life in prison, Thompson said.

Schreiber has been arrested at least 11 times going back to 2003. Charges have included resisting an officer, petit theft, hit-and-run involving injury, and battery, according to state correction records.

Standing outside the fire-damaged mosque Wednesday evening, Wilfredo Ruiz, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations-Florida and attorney Omar Saleh praised law-enforcement officials for their quick actions.

“He needs to face the consequences of his acts now,” Ruiz said of Schreiber. “He will face justice and he will spend a lot of time probably in prison thinking about the damage he has done, not only to the Muslim community, but the Fort Pierce community, the Florida community and the American community as a whole. This individual has damaged what America is about, what Americans are about and our principles as Americans that we hold high.”

Members of the mosque offered reporters a glimpse of the damaged areas, cautioning them to avoid areas where they feared the roof could collapse. The Islamic Center gained national attention when it became known that it was a place of worship for Omar Mateen, who authorities say killed 49 people and wounded 53 in a shooting this past June at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Mateen was fatally shot by Orlando police officers.

Since the attack, there have been several reported threats against the Islamic Center as well as an attack outside the mosque in early July. Ruiz said he was not aware of direct threats made against the Islamic Center by Schreiber.

On July 12, Schreiber posted the following on his Facebook page: “IF AMERICA truly wants peace and safety and pursuit of happiness they should consider all forms of ISLAM as radical, the truth is that there is no such a thing as radical ISLAMIC extremism…ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL , and should be considered TERRORIST AND CRIMANALS and all hoo participate in such activity should be found guilty of WAR CRIM until law and order is restored in this beautiful free country , all who agree with this statement, like it and make a comment.”

Ruiz said CAIR-Florida will push to see that Schreiber is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“A crime against a place of worship is a crime against all worshippers in Florida, ” he said.


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