Man pleads guilty to federal hate crime, arson charges in connection with Cape Girardeau Islamic Center fire

Islamic faith leaders in Cape Girardeau say they feel emotional after the man accused of burning down their worship center admits to committing the crime
Published: Dec. 13, 2022 at 5:13 PM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - A man pleaded guilty to hate crime and arson charges in connection with the fire that destroyed the Cape Girardeau Islamic Center.

According to a release from the Justice Department on Tuesday, December 13, Nicholas John Proffitt, 44, is scheduled to be sentenced on May 2, 2023.

He faces up to 20 years in prison for damage to religious property and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for using fire to commit a federal felony.

Proffitt also faces a fine of up to $250,000 with respect to each charge.

According to court documents, on April 24, 2020, the first morning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, at around 4:50 a.m., Proffitt set fire to the Islamic Center at 298 Northwest End Boulevard in Cape Girardeau.

The center’s video security system showed Proffitt throwing multiple objects through the building’s glass window, causing to to break. He’s also accused of throwing two containers into the center through the broken window and stepped through the window to enter the center.

According to the documents, he then poured the contents of two gallon-sized containers throughout the foyer and down the hallway.

They say Proffitt lit two fires that immediately spread through the inside of the building.

The Islamic Center had severe damage making it unusable.

Court documents state Proffitt admitted to setting the center on fire because of the religious character of the building.

“This is the second time Nicholas Proffitt attacked the Islamic Center in Cape Girardeau, and his third attack against a house of worship,” U.S. Attorney Sayler A. Fleming for the Eastern District of Missouri, said in the release. “He placed the occupants of that building at risk of death or serious injury, and he will be held responsible for his actions with a significant prison sentence.”

The Cape Girardeau Police Department; the FBI Kansas City Field Office; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s Office; and the Perryville Police Department investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Hahn for the Eastern District of Missouri and Trial Attorney Noah Coakley II of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.

The Islamic Center is currently remodeling it’s new space.

A board member, Hazef Amer reacted to seeing the place he worshipped at for 12 years burn. He said, “Well you know you cry sometimes and I did, when I, when I came I was one of know people that came in, and when I saw that burning, that was hard, that was hard. To see the place where you pray and worship God to see it burned like this, it was terrible.”

In regard to Proffitt pleading guilty, he explained, “I feel sorry for the man. That he was misguided he was misinformed. If he ever thought about coming here, talk to somebody, see what we are doing, what we are saying then he would have never done what he has done.”