A church maintenance worker was charged in federal court with arson after setting a fire at Concord Cultural Center and spray-painting racist graffiti on the front of the adjoining church, Concord Fortress of Hope, in an effort to cover up his burglary.
Nathaniel D. Nelson, 48, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo. Nelson remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing.
Nelson was a member of the church who was employed as a maintenance worker at the church and cultural center, located at 11040 W. Longview Parkway, Kansas City, Mo. Firefighters were called by a church employee and responded to the cultural center on Sunday morning, Oct. 29, 2017. A fire had occurred in an office inside the building but a sprinkler had activated and extinguished the fire prior to the arrival of firefighters. Investigators concluded that an office chair and other ordinary combustible material had been intentionally ignited using an open flame.
Investigators also discovered racist graffiti spray-painted on the front of the church. A racial slur, the letters “KKK” and a symbol similar to a swastika were visible from the main entrance into the parking lot as members of the congregation arrived for church for Sunday morning services.
The digital video recorder for the video surveillance system that monitored the foyer area and the cultural center’s interior and exterior cameras were unplugged and no longer recording when examined by investigators. Investigators determined that the DVR system lost power sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, and had been intentionally unplugged.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the federal criminal complaint, a review of the DVR system revealed that Nelson was in the foyer area shortly before the DVR system was deactivated. A second DVR, which was still powered on, recorded the video surveillance footage of the interior and exterior cameras located inside and outside of the church, which was separate from the cameras located in the cultural center and foyer. The second DVR, the affidavit says, captured video footage of Nelson spray painting the front of the church. KCPD Deputy Chief Karl Oakman, a member of the church, identified Nelson from the video surveillance footage.
Investigators then interviewed Nelson. According to the affidavit, Nelson told investigators that he went to his office in the cultural center to smoke crack cocaine sometime after 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. At some point after getting high, Nelson said he went into the church office area and attempted to force his way into the finance office to steal money. (The finance office was the only room in the church and cultural center he did not have keyed access.) Nelson wasn’t able to break into the finance room so he proceeded into two adjacent offices using his key and took $140 from one office and $94 from another office. Nelson told investigators that he then left the church to purchase more crack cocaine.
Nelson stated that after he purchased four crack rocks for approximately $125, he returned to the church to get high a second time. After Nelson smoked the crack cocaine in his office, he said, he retrieved a pair of bolt cutters, a wrench and a drill bit and attempted to break into the vending machines located in the gymnasium of the cultural center. Nelson said he was only able to steal $2 from the vending machines.
Nelson told investigators that at some point after breaking into the vending machines he left the church to purchase additional crack cocaine from the same source. Nelson told investigators that after he purchased approximately four additional crack rocks he again returned back to the church to get high. Nelson said he only paid $75 for the additional crack cocaine with the promise that he would provide his source $200 in food stamps at a later time.
During the interview, the affidavit says, Nelson, admitted to investigators that he intentionally unplugged one DVR system but did not know that video was being recorded on a separate system inside the church, which captured him spray-painting the outside of the building.
According to the affidavit, Nelson told investigators that he intentionally set a fire inside the office area of the cultural center using clothing and paper towels that he had laid on or next to an office chair. Nelson also told investigators he spray-painted the front of the church with inflammatory graffiti and intentionally set the fire to create a diversion and throw investigators off.