Amid international media attention, hundreds of supporters prayed and communed Sunday morning at the burned ruins of the Victoria Islamic Center in a show of community solidarity.
“Look at Victoria and learn the lesson … as to how people can come together as one human family,” said M.J. Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, as he stood before the gathered crowd.
Religious leaders of varying faiths and backgrounds led an emotional crowd as fire investigators worked behind yellow crime scene tape in the mosque’s broken rubble. Police, who blocked off Airline Road for the service, estimated that 400 people attended.
The Victoria Islamic Center was gutted by fire in the pre-dawn hours Saturday.
In the face of that calamity, overwhelming support from Victoria and beyond has poured over the mosque’s members, said Shahid Hashmi, president and a founding member of the Victoria Islamic Center.
A gofundme.com page set up to raise funds to rebuild the mosque demonstrated the overwhelming goodwill from supporters in Victoria, the state of Texas, the U.S. and beyond. As of 10:45 p.m. Sunday, the page had raised more than $780,000 since its creation the previous day.
Victoria Fire Marshal Tom Legler said investigators have yet to determine the fire’s cause or origin.
The investigation could take “many, many” months, said Victoria Fire Chief Taner Drake.
Saturday, investigators were delayed by the building’s decaying structural integrity, Drake said. They waited for the arrival of heavy machinery to peel back parts of the crumbling building to allow investigators to work safely.
A State Fire Marshal’s Office K9 assisted the investigators by sniffing for a wide spectrum of chemicals, including flammable liquids, Legler said. Forensic samples were taken – a common occurrence in most fire investigations – and were sent for testing to the State Fire Marshal’s Forensic Arson Laboratory in Austin, Legler said.
Hundreds of photographs, measurements and documentation also have been taken, he said. Hashmi said security camera footage from within the mosque…