Walker church demolition 'reckless and premature,' says Welfare Rights Committee

Categories: Minneapolis

walker church.jpg
Larry Whiten
The Walker Church was literally a shell of itself following the May 27 blaze.
On May 28 -- the day after fire ripped through the Walker Community United Methodist Church at 16th Avenue and 31st Street in south Minneapolis -- the gutted building was destroyed.

City officials said the remains of the structure posed a safety hazard, and maintained investigators had ample time overnight to look into the fire's cause before the 102-year-old building was demolished. But leaders of some of the nonprofits that were based out of the building believe the day-after demolition may end up preventing understanding of the fire's true cause.

Deb Konechne, co-founder of the Welfare Rights Committee, said "because they botched that investigation -- they recklessly and prematurely demolished the evidence -- we may never have the right to know what the cause of the fire was."

Michelle Gross, president of the Communities United Against Police Brutality, told MPR that her organization's Walker Church office contained videos taken by cameras outside the 2008 RNC, along with photos and other documents that were to be used as evidence in litigation against police officers. All of those materials were destroyed by the fire.

walker church before.jpg
The church was home to nonprofits like the Communities United Against Police Brutality, Welfare Rights Committee, and MN Immigrant Rights Action Committee, among others.

"It was excruciating to watch the fire consume our office and 11 and a half years of work," Gross said.

Though investigators haven't conclusively determined the fire's cause, severe thunderstorms rolled through Minneapolis the night the church went up in flames, and speculation has centered on the possibility that a lightning strike started the blaze. But given the sensitive documents and videos some of the church offices contained, it isn't beyond the realm of possibility that Walker was an arson target -- Konechne said that just two months ago, someone filled the church with gas by turning on the burners of the stove in the basement kitchen.

Said Gross: "Knowing the controversial nature of the groups that rented in the space, you can't just say, 'Oh well, hopefully it was lightning, but we don't really know.' You need to check it out."

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