NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — Tucked into more than 80 acres next to Lake Michigan, the Maranatha Bible & Missionary Conference offers lodges, cottages and condominiums for families looking for both relaxation and spiritual renewal.
But around 10:51 p.m. Thursday, it’s believed someone tried to ruin one family’s stay.
“They were alerted to flames on the back and people yelling for them to get out of the house,” said Norton Shores Police Department Lt. Brandon Poel.
Investigators think the fire started at the back of a cottage in the 1800 block of Channel Road and spread quickly.
“It was very close. There was one individual that was sleeping in the basement, and was able to get out… (She) saw the flames and was able to get out just in the nick of time. But the flames were chasing her out of the residence,” said Poel.
The cottage is considered a total loss.
Investigators have ruled the fire as suspicious. While they don’t know how it started, they do there was another fire two doors down around the same time in September that’s been ruled arson.
That fire caused $300,000 in damage, according to Norton Shores police. While the home has since been rebuilt, the unsolved case is too close to Thursday’s fire to call it a coincidence.
“We do have patrols up in here with our officers who are on foot, on bikes and in cars… talking to residents here who are on edge. And they are scared. They don’t want this to happen to their home,” said Poel.
Suspicious fires and other crimes involving churches and other religious facilities like Maranatha Bible & Missionary Conference often trigger a response from federal authorities.
“We are not at that point yet,” Poel said. “We don’t have anything that leads us to believe that this was a target of a religious organization. Obviously that’s in the back of our mind. But if it did lead that way, the federal authorities would be contacted.”
The Maranatha Association has also partnered with Silent Observer to offer a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist.
Even if you saw something you might have thought insignificant, investigators want you to let them sort it out.
We’re looking for any suspicious vehicles, suspicious persons, or any video around that time that we haven’t already gathered from individuals in the area,” explained Poel.
Anyone with information in this case is encouraged assist in the investigation is asked to contact Norton Shores Police Department at 231.733.2691 or Silent Observer at 231.72.CRIME.