Bystanders Stop Woman Pouring Gas On Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birth Home: Cops
A woman attempted to burn down the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta on Thursday but was stopped by several bystanders after pouring gasoline on the historic property, police said.
Laneisha Shantrice Henderson, 26, was arrested and charged with second-degree arson and interfering with government property following the scare just before 6 p.m., police said.
Two people visiting from Utah interrupted the woman as she poured gasoline on the home’s front porch. She was physically detained by two off-duty police officers, who were visiting from New York, until local police arrived, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum told reporters.
“Their quick action saved the jewel of our city, something very important to Atlanta,” Schierbaum said.
He said his department is communicating with the district attorney and U.S. attorney regarding possible federal charges in the incident, as the King home is owned and maintained by the National Park Service.
Video obtained by local station WSB-TV appears to show a woman dressed in all black splashing a liquid from a red canister on the home’s front windows and porch. She appears to wave her hand away at people who ask what she’s doing.
Zach Kempf, who identified himself to The New York Times as one of the people who helped stop her and called police, described the woman as having a “nervous energy” to her, but he said “she wasn’t aggressive.”
The woman tried to walk away after Kempf and others stopped her from grabbing a lighter that she’d left in the grass, he said.
Shortly after the woman was physically restrained and police arrived, Kempf said, an older man who looked “very distraught” appeared with three women. They identified themselves as the suspect’s father and sisters, and said they’d been looking for her and using the woman’s location signal from her phone to track her. They said she is a veteran who was experiencing mental distress.
Henderson, who according to a police report is from Brandon, Florida, was taken to a local hospital for a psychological evaluation before being booked in the Fulton County Jail.
The landmark nonprofit King Center, whose campus is located less than a block from the home, expressed gratitude to those who helped prevent disaster.
“Our prayers are with the individual who allegedly committed this criminal act,” the center said in a statement.
The civil rights leader and his two siblings were all born in the home, which was built in 1895. He lived the first 12 years of his life at the house, which stayed in the family and was used as a rental property for years after, according to the NPS.
The federal agency’s Judy Forte, who is superintendent of the MLK Jr. National Historical Park, also expressed gratitude to the people who prevented a fire.
“Their quick action helped save this home that gave birth to a monumental legacy nearly a century ago,” she said in a statement. “We appreciate the community’s ongoing support and remain steadfast in our mission to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Last month, the NPS announced that tours were suspended at the home until late 2025 to allow for renovations.