According to a Seattle police report, just before 10 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2023, 42-year-old Waylon J. Williams broke into the temple and started a fire, resulting in considerable fire and water damage. In addition, thousands of records dating back to 1901 were damaged. Smoke and water damage extended throughout the entire temple, prompting closure and forcing the cancellation of the temple’s New Year’s day service.
No injuries were reported.
According to probable cause documents, Williams said he was running from a gang and scared for his life, so he ran into the church. He said he barricaded himself and began to drink liquor. He threw items around where he had barricaded himself, and that is when a fire sparked.
He’s been charged with burglary and reckless burning.
Williams has multiple felony and misdemeanor convictions ranging from assault to burglary to theft. Since 2001, Washington state courts have issued more than 50 warrants for Williams’ arrest. He is set to be arraigned on Jan. 17.
The fires, both at the temple’s basement—housing their kitchen—left burn marks above the door and window. The second fire, at around 2:30 p.m. the following day, is still under investigation.
In a statement, the Seattle Betsuin expressed gratitude for the outpouring of sentiments and well-wishes from the community. They acknowledged the support received through various means, emphasizing the importance of the community’s compassion during this challenging time.
For those who would like to make a donation to the temple’s Arson Restoration Fund, go to seattlebetsuin.org/fire.
Contributions can also be made via check, addressed to Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple, 1427 S. Main Street, Seattle, WA 98144
Make them payable to “SEATTLE BUDDHIST CHURCH” and include “Arson Restoration Fund” in the memo line.
One of the fires also hit one room particularly hard—where all of Troop 252’s camping and backpacking gear was stored. Troop 252 was started in 1939 and is the last historically Japanese American Scout troop in Seattle. They are now asking for help on GoFundMe to replace the destroyed equipment.