BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The FBI now believes an arson fire in Buffalo's Old First Ward may have been a hate crime. Upon hearing the news the fiery crime may be rooted in racism, a neighbor gave a stunning reaction.
As you read through the story, know you may find some of the statements offensive.
Federal prosecutors stop short of calling this a hate crime, but continue to look for evidence to prove it as such. They have been investigating the Mackinaw Street fire for more than a year.
"The property owner and the victim was a refugee that had fled oppression and had immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the American dream," said Frank Christiano, Resident Agent in Charge of the ATF.
Fifty-eight-year-old Michael Fijal of Buffalo was charged with arson and is awaiting trial. Prosecutors say he paid someone to purposely set the empty building on fire. The blaze was so intense, it damaged the home next door.
Now authorities say they're looking for more evidence to prove race may have been a motivating factor. The FBI is offering a reward to anyone who can help with further information, leading to an arrest of the person who burned the house down.
FBI Special Agent Christopher Piehota said, "The elements of the case indicate there may be a hate crime motivated incident and we want to get to the bottom of it."
We wanted to know if residents believed race played a role in the crime. One neighbor, working on repairing a home damaged in last year's fire, had some comments that may shock you.
|>> EXTENDED VIDEO: Watch Ed Drantch's full interview with this man to hear his complete shocking comments on race in Buffalo.|
"I think that if people just stayed on their own side of town in their own neighborhood that things like that wouldn't happen," the man said. "Every race and color has their own section of Buffalo, so if they just stay in their own neighborhood, things like this wouldn't happen."
He's has lived in the Old First Ward for more than 30 years.
The man stated, "People in these neighborhoods don't want those type of people moving down here and destroying the property value. So when things like that happen, it shouldn't such a shock."
We asked the man what he meant by "those types of people." He responded: "Minorities. African Americans."
We asked the man why he holds these opinions.
He answered, "Because I own a home and I see what happens when they move into the neighborhood. Property value goes down, kids on the corner, crime goes up. The east side used to be a beautiful place; look what they did to that."
But not everyone felt the same way. One woman who moved to the area right before last year's fire said she was disappointed to learn the crime could be racially motivated.
"It seemed like this was their dream. They came here I think from the Congo probably to have a better life, and this is what they have now," she said.
Despite the mix of opinion, the man stands by his assertion. We asked the resident if he thinks there's anything wrong with what he had said.
"I don't feel there's anything wrong with it. A lot of people would feel wrong about it, but I don't."
If you have information for officials, you can call the FBI at 856-7800 or the ATF at 853-5070. The FBI is offering $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
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