Search continues for man who vandalized, burned Buddhist temple in L.A.’s Little Tokyo

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The search continues for a man captured on camera last month setting fire to the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in downtown Los Angeles.

Around 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, the unidentified man climbed a gate to get onto the Little Tokyo property, which was closed at the time.

Surveillance video shows the man climbing over the temple’s fence and setting two wooden lantern stands on fire. As the flames grow, he destroys a pair of metal lanterns, which have been a part of the temple since it was built in 1976.

Before leaving, he throws a rock at the front door, shattering the floor-to-ceiling glass panel at the entrance, according Rev. Noriaki Ito, a bishop and the temple head priest.

A minister who happened be in the back office smelled smoke, grabbed an extinguisher and fought the flames until firefighters arrived.

Amid a wave of attacks against Asians and Asian Americans, Ito says the incident raised the question about whether it should be considered a hate crime.

“It’s just sadness — sadness that something like this has happened. I’m actually even concerned for the person who did it,” Ito said. “You know, what was he thinking? Is it because he doesn’t like Asians, or is it something else that triggered this?” 

The answer remains unclear, as police continue to search for the man responsible. Authorities have not yet decided whether to label the incident as a hate crime.

No one was hurt in the fire, and those who call the temple their second home say they’re grateful for the outpouring of community support that followed — both in words of encouragement and more than $90,000 in funds that were raised for repairs and future security measures.

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