GR church among several in state labeled ‘target’

The Westminster Presbyterian Church on Jefferson Avenue in Grand Rapids Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The FBI has joined police in Grand Rapids and Dearborn Heights in investigating a bizarre threat against places of worship across the state.

Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Grand Rapids was one of those places.

The playground outside Westminster Presbyterian’s Day care was quiet Tuesday and the food pantry that serves the needy was closed because of the threat found in Dearborn Heights.

The threat to Westminster and several other places of worship was found in a bag stuffed into a bush outside a Dearborn Heights home. In the bag was an unloaded handgun and a map with several addresses circled.

“The addresses were all religious locations, both Christian churches and one mosque was on there also. The location in Grand Rapids as circled with the word ‘target’ written on it,” Grand Rapids Police Department Lt. Pat Merrill said.

But that’s about all investigators have to go on. There was no specific threat or apparent motive.

“The situation is threatening, there is no doubt. Somebody put this stuff into a bag to create the impression that a threat exists. Now the question is how valid is it? And we’re going to work that,” Merrill said.

“We’re working with the FBI and with Dearborn Heights Police Department to further the investigation and see what else we can do with this,” he continued.

As for who might be responsible and why, GRPD said it received calls from concerned citizens speculating about the Dearborn area’s Muslim population, even though a mosque was among the targets. Police warn against jumping to any conclusions.

“I know it’s quick and easy to jump there, but those are dangerous conclusions to come to based on not much information,” Merrill said. “The work we do is based on fact, not stereotypes or guessing.”

While investigators say they don’t believe there’s an immediate threat to Westminster or any places of worship on the target list, they are telling the general public to remain vigilant.

“Good situational awareness on everyone’s part,” Merrill said. “Is it odd that someone is normally there? (Is) somebody normally here at this time? And just letting us know what’s going on.”

The church released a statement Tuesday afternoon thanking GRPD and other agencies for their concern and communication.

>>PDF: The church’s statement

“Although we do not know the motive or intent behind the creation of this list, we offer our support for the other faith communities included — and all perpetually marginalized faith communities,” the church said in a Facebook post.