Reaching Hearts Church offers $25,000 reward for 2007 arson

Six years and one month after arson destroyed a building on West Laurel property owned by Reaching Hearts Seventh-day Adventist Church, officials have offered a $25,000 reward for information on the 2007 fire.

Church pastor the Rev. Michael Oxentenko is hoping the culprit, years removed from the crime, has let down his or her guard, increasing the chances of an arrest.

"It's been six years, so there has been time for this person to talk," Oxentenko said. "We've been low-key about it, but we think this is the right time to come forward with a reward."

Oxentenko said the church is hoping the reward, announced last week, will bring closure, and more important, a feeling of safety, to the church community.

The church is soliciting the reward through the Baltimore division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has been investigating the incident along with the Prince George's County Fire Department since 2007.

"This case remains open because, in the end, the church is a victim," said ATF spokesman Ken Ryan. "The church is providing that reward money in an effort to seek the public's help in solving what we suspect is a crime. As rewards go, it is rather significant."

Since the May 18 fire burnt the five-bedroom ranch-style building, Oxentenko, who recalled that evening as "chilling," said there has been constant vandalism to the property, located at 6100 Brooklyn Bridge Road.

The church, which is renting space in Spencerville, is in the process of building a new facility on the same plot of land. After an extensive legal battle with Prince George's County about the project, which predates the fire and resulted in a federal district court jury awarding the church $3.7 million in damages in 2008, the church is currently in the process of acquiring building permits. Oxentenko said Reaching Hearts will open the new facility, which is planned to include a church and a school, in the next two years.

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