A suspicious fire before dawn Wednesday in Brooklyn Center destroyed a freshly vandalized residential garage where Donald Trump presidential campaign flags were displayed, authorities said.
Police and firefighters responded to the blaze in the 6900 block of N. Morgan Avenue shortly before 4 a.m. It burned down the detached garage and totaled three vehicles inside, according to police. Minor damage was done to the house, and no injuries were reported.
Officers and firefighters helped the family save three dogs and four puppies from the home, police said.
"This fire is considered suspicious, and our investigation remains extremely active," a statement from police read.
Officers saw what appeared to be fresh spray paint on the garage that read "Biden 2020," "BLM" and an "A" with a circle around it, according to police. The symbol often is a reference to anarchists.
Deana and Dennis Molla said they were asleep in the house along with their 2-year-old son and 5-month old daughter when the fire erupted.
"We heard an explosion that shook the house," said Deana Molla, who ran to the basement where her husband was finishing up his final day of quarantine after contracting COVID-19.
She said her husband climbed out of a basement window in his boxers and T-shirt, and saw three people running and picked up a box of matches.
Once the fire was under control, Deana Molla said, police showed them a photo of the graffiti on the garage door.
There was one Trump flag on a camper and a second one along with an American flag on a pickup truck, she said.
She recalled a troubling experience her husband had about 10 days ago while working in downtown Minneapolis on a construction site. His pickup with the Trump flag was parked nearby, when someone "drove by slowly and took pictures," she said, and feces was later left at his vehicle when he went on a water break.
"I think things have gotten way out of control," said Dennis Molla, who was born in Ukraine and moved to the United States at age 4. "I'm not one of those confrontational people. … I just feel very sorry for my parents, just because they wanted to leave the USSR for us to have a better future and life in America. … For them to see me express my beliefs as a Republican, it's crazy to think it came down to this."
While troubled by the anti-Trump messages left on his garage, Dennis Molla said, "It shouldn't affect how people vote."
Police Cmdr. Garrett Flesland said that while investigators pursue a motive, "everything is on the table. We are keeping our minds and our ears open. We're just going to let the evidence take us where it goes."
Along with local agencies, the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are also investigating the fire. A reward of $5,000 is being offered for information leading to the identification of whoever is responsible. Tips can be called in to 1-800-723-2020.
Barely 10 hours after the fire roused the family, Deana Molla choked up when talking about how close her children were to the burning garage and vehicles.
"They saw that we have a jungle gym and toys in the backyard," she said. "To put our babies in harm's way because you don't agree with our politics; just don't put our kids in danger. My son smells like smoke."