Arsonist arrested after Florida Chabad center and rabbi’s car torched

Synagogue, community center destroyed by arsonist in southwest Florida.

By World Israel News Staff

A synagogue and Jewish community center in southwestern Florida were destroyed over the weekend, after an arsonist set fire to the property.

Emergency dispatchers were notified of a fire on the 1300 block of East Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale at approximately 7:20 a.m. this past Saturday, after locals spotted a blaze in the building, which houses the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center and adjoining synagogue.

The building was heavily damaged in the fire, and a van belonging to the local rabbi, Chaim Slavaticki, was destroyed.

Fort Lauderdale police located and apprehended the suspected arsonist, who was later identified as 50-year-old Scott Hannaford.

Police have obtained security camera footage from the incident, showing Hannaford lighting the rabbi’s van on fire, then attempting to spark a second fire in the Chabad center.

In the end, while Hannaford was unsuccessful in his attempts to spark a second fire, the blaze from the rabbi’s van eventually spread to the community center’s kitchen, causing significant damage.

Hannaford was transferred to the Broward Sheriff’s Office and charged with two counts of arson, criminal mischief, and drug possession, after he was found to be in possession of cocaine.

According to an initial investigation into the incident, local authorities say Hannaford appears to be mentally ill, adding that there is no evidence at this point to suggest that the arson constituted a hate crime.

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Rabbi Slavaticki told WTVJ that he received a knock at the door Saturday morning and was informed of the blaze.

“Screaming fire at the center, fire at the center and I rushed over,” Slavaticki said. “Everything is still fresh, a lot of emotions.”

“We have to look at the positive, and it’s a time to reflect on unity and coming together and continuing to be a light to the community.”

In a statement released Sunday night, the Chabad center appeared to dispute police claims that the arson did not seem to be a hate crime.

“On Shabbat morning at 7 AM, The Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center deliberately and intentionally set aflame,” the center’s Facebook account wrote.

“It was a clearly targeted attack on our facility and our Community.”