A Muslim advocacy group called on Baltimore County prosecutors Monday to follow Anne Arundel County prosecutors lead in pursuing hate crime charges against a Halethorpe woman alleged to have firebombed a mosque in Halethorpe and a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in Glen Burnie.
Heather Meisel, of Halethorpe, has been indicted in both jurisdictions on a host of offenses. In Anne Arundel County, she’s been charged with one misdemeanor hate crime: defacing a religious property.
The 43-year-old was also charged with attempted murder and attempted arson after authorities said she chucked a Molotov cocktail into an occupied Jehovah’s Witness religious facility in Glen Burnie. In Baltimore County, she faces arson and attempted arson counts after she allegedly broke windows and threw homemade explosives into a house and an Islamic Center.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Public Defender, which is representing Meisel in her Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County cases, declined to comment.
Heather Meisel smashed windows and threw incendiary devices into a house and Islamic center in Halethorpe on Feb. 12 before she allegedly tossed one of the homemade explosives into a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in Glen Burnie. https://t.co/H1S1HVaCkq
Zainab Chaudry, Maryland director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which aims to protect civil rights and empower American Muslims, said in a statement that places of worship are “sanctuaries that deserve to be safeguarded and protected" and that attacks should “be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“I spoke with the mosque leaders," Chaudry said. "They were a little frustrated with how it’s been handled...
“We want to make sure law enforcement and prosecutors are treating this with the seriousness it deserves.”
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said that because Meisel was in custody in Anne Arundel County, law enforcement had to move quickly to pursue charges.
The investigation into the incident was not complete when the Baltimore County charges against Meisel were filed, Shellenberger said. “Once it’s complete we will consider additional charges.”
Meisel is being held without bond at the Jennifer Road Detention Center in Annapolis. She refused twice to attend bail review hearings on consecutive days.
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Meisel at her parents house in Halethorpe after they noticed similarities in a spate of incidents involving improvised incendiary devices, which were being investigated by local fire officials. The alleged attacks occurred on Feb. 12 and 13.
Authorities said she admitted to introducing “vessels” at a house near the corner of Georgia Avenue and Baltimore Street, at the Masjid Mustafa Islamic Center and at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Glen Burnie.
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Chaudry said the attack on the mosque comes at a time of heightened Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. As such, Chaudry said her advocacy group will be providing the Islamic center’s leadership a “security workshop" so they can be better prepared to protect their community.
At each location, fire investigators found broken bottles of olive oil or apple cider vinegar with wicks — pieces of material to hold a flame — protruding from them. The bottles, investigators wrote, reeked of fire accelerating chemicals.
Security cameras at the mosque and the Kingdom Hall captured Meisel arriving in a bright yellow SUV, approaching the buildings with objects in hand, smashing windows and hurling the homemade explosive inside.
Meisel allegedly told investigators she tried to burn the religious facilities to “send a message.”
In addition to attempted murder and arson offenses, the indictments charged Meisel with assault, reckless endangerment, possession of incendiary material with the intent to create a destructive device and malicious burning, among other crimes.