Orlando Baha'i Center goes up in flames

Arson investigators were looking Tuesday into two fires in three days that destroyed the Orlando Bahá'í Center in Orlando.

The first fire in the one-story wood building on Hillcrest Street was reported at 4:48 a.m. Sunday. When the Orlando Fire Department responded to the second blaze at 12:55 a.m. Tuesday, flames were shooting through the roof.

"It is unusual for something like that to happen, especially this much down time between the two," said Orlando Fire Department Commander Vicki Robles.

A spokesperson for the Bahá'í Center said the fires are baffling to the members, who number about 300 in the metropolitan Orlando area. Prior to the fires, there had been no threats, vandalism, or break-ins at the center, said Kelsey Vargas, secretary for the center's governing assembly.

"We don't have any reason to suspect that anyone would wish us harm," Vargas said.

The center was created in 1974, Vargas said. Until the Orlando center can be replaced, members plan to meet in each other's homes, Vargas said.

"For generations people have used it as a place for devotions and children's classes and for moral and spiritual development," she said. "People are very saddened that this has happened."

About four years ago, the center received a thick package of hate mail decorated with swastikas and containing a "Bin Laden" return address, said George Via, a member of the center. He said police suspected that it was sent by a mentally ill person.

The Bahá'í faith, which preaches unity of God, religion and mankind, originated in 19th century Iran and has more than five million followers worldwide. The Orlando center had just celebrated the birthday of one of the religion's prophets on Oct. 12 and was scheduled to observe the holiday of the birth of Bahá'í founder Bahá'u'lláh on Nov. 20.

Bahá'u'lláh is considered one in a long line of messengers from God that included Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. For that reason, members of other religions Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, are welcomed and accepted at Bahá'í centers of worship.

The centers are gathering places for members of the faith, but are not considered temples or churches. The Bahá'í have no clergy and elect a governing assembly of nine members. Campaigning for office is forbidden.

"Anyone who wants to get elected," Via said, "is disqualified."

Henry Pierson Curtis of the Sentinel staff contributed to this story. Jeff Kunerth can be reached at jkunerth@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5392.



  1. I am sorry to read this. I think this is the work of COVENANT BREAKERS. There are so many over there. Many innocent people come to baha'i faith seeming it to be a true religion. But when they try to question the will and testament of Abdul Baha and talk about guardianship, they are declared as covenant breakers and when they are kicked out they try to revenge. This kind of situation is prevalent with innocent new bahai believers in many countries.

  2. Actually, this looks more like an inside job.


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