Police: ‘New evidence’ recovered in Minnesota synagogue fire
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Police: ‘New evidence’ recovered in Minnesota synagogue fire

Duluth police chief won’t say if he suspects foul play; building almost completely destroyed in blaze

Adas Israel Congregation ablaze in Minnesota, September 9, 2019. (Screenshot from KBJR Channel 6 via JTA)
Adas Israel Congregation ablaze in Minnesota, September 9, 2019. (Screenshot from KBJR Channel 6 via JTA)

DULUTH, Minn.  — Authorities in Minnesota said Tuesday they have recovered “new evidence” in a fire that destroyed a historic synagogue.

But Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken did not specify what the evidence was at a news conference . Tusken also would not say if authorities thought foul play was involved in the fire early Monday at the Adas Israel Congregation in downtown Duluth.

Police are reviewing hundreds of hours of surveillance tape from nearby residences and businesses, and are trying to talk to witnesses.

Also assisting are investigators from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is standard when fires break out in places of worship.

According to its website, the Adas Israel Congregation is an Orthodox/High Conservative Jewish congregation with a membership total of 75.

Firefighters responded to the fire at the Adas Israel Congregation in downtown Duluth about 2 a.m. Monday. Firefighters were still hosing down the building’s blackened shell five hours later.

All that is left among the charred remains are the remnants of some structural walls. The building “is pretty much a total loss,” Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Brent Consie said.

Screen capture from video of the remains of the Adas Israel Congregation after it was destroyed in a ablaze, Minnesota, September 9, 2019. (YouTube)

Authorities say eight of 14 Torah scrolls, the holy books of Judaism, stored in the synagogue were saved.

One firefighter who was struck by falling debris was taken to a hospital, treated and released.

Executive director Steve Hunegs of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas said his group was saddened by the synagogue’s destruction and is monitoring the situation.

“We are in close communication with the leadership of Adas Israel Congregation and law enforcement in the Duluth area,” Hunegs said in a statement. “The investigation into this incident is ongoing.”

“It feels like one of your family members passed away,” David Sher, a board member and lifelong worshipper at Adas Israel, told the Star Tribune. “We have no idea what we are doing [next]. There are no words right now.”

The synagogue has around 50 members. The local Jewish federations have started a fundraising campaign on behalf of the synagogue, and another local synagogue, Temple Israel, has offered Adas Israel temporary space.

Times of Israel Staff and JTA contributed to this report

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