Police officers responded on 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 23 to what they initially believed was a vandal who had broken the windows of the First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, reported The Associated Press.
“Then we realized that the windows were not smashed, that they had actually blown out from some type of explosion,” Lt. Christopher Cano of the El Monte Police Department told AP.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said that no injuries have been reported and a joint investigation is underway to find the individual or group responsible for the attack.
While it was too early to call the incident a hate crime, Eimiller said that’s “always going to be considered as a theory when a house of worship is attacked.”
First Works Baptist’s pastor Bruce Mejia told The New York Times that his church would continue to hold services at a different location.
“It’s not going to really deter us from doing what we always do,” Mejia said. “We’re not afraid of this.”
Protesters have repeatedly targeted the church because of Mejia’s message about homosexuality. The church, founded in 2017, says on its website that it believes “homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty.”
“We oppose worldliness, modernism, formalism, and liberalism,” the church’s website reads.
Keep El Monte Friendly, a group that has led protests outside First Works Baptist, said in a statement on Instagram that the protesters were “profoundly shocked” to learn about the explosion. The group cancelled a demonstration originally scheduled for Sunday, and urged everyone to stay away from the church to allow investigators to do their job.
“We understand that what they preach can make people upset,” the statement reads. “However, we would never promote, encourage or condone any violence or acts of harm.”
Earlier this month, Keep El Monte Friendly started an online competition that calls on El Monte’s administrators to kick the church out of the city. The petition gained more than 15,000 supporting signatures as of Sunday morning.
“I am saddened to see that we are allowing this type of bigotry to freely exist in our neighborhood,” the petitioners stated. “We need to let Bruce Mejia and his following know that they are not welcomed.”