Gay nightclub to reopen as police search for suspects

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by ALISON MORROW / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @AlisonMorrowTV

KING5.com

Posted on January 2, 2014 at 6:11 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 2 at 6:20 PM

Seattle Police detectives have set up a tip line in order to track down a suspect, or suspects, responsible for a New Year's Eve arson that nearly destroyed a popular gay nightclub in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

"This definitely could have been much worse," said Seattle PD Spokesperson Renee Witt.

According to Witt, someone doused the Neighbours staircase with gasoline and set it on fire just after midnight. Detectives are combing through surveillance video and meeting with witnesses.

The staircase is in an area with limited access deep inside the bar. Nearly 700 people escaped uninjured. Minutes later, managment discovered a liter container filled with gasoline, just feet from where they watched two customers put out the fire with an extinguisher.

"We don't want people to panic and get nervous," Witt said. "We want people to allow our detectives time to work the case."

At this point, police have no evidence to call the arson a crime of bias or hate, but regulars call Neighbours a club that's more than just a bar. It's seen by customers as a center of LGBT history, a safe space for queer nightlife.

"Until people know the motivation, it's hard to speculate, but it makes everyone want to be more vigilant," said Louise Chernin, president of the Greater Seattle Business Association.

Seattle's first openly gay mayor, Ed Murray, sent KING 5 the following statement:
"It's very concerning that this happened, particularly on New Year's Eve, when people were celebrating and the potential for injury was very high...Right now, the most important thing is to find the individual or individuals responsible, and then determine the motive for this potentially very destructive action."

Neighbours has reconfigured security inside. They may also build a new wall to fully block access to the club from another bar, Therapy, that shares the same space.

They will reopen tonight.

"We want to make sure people who come here feel safe, that when they enter places they know there is security and it's safe," Chernin said.

Anyone with information should call the SPD Arson Bomb Squad at 206-684-8980.

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