Woman tries to burn down Martin Luther King’s home
Alert bystanders stopped a woman as she attempted to set fire to the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr in Atlanta, Georgia, police say.
Officials said the prompt action “saved an important part of American history”.
The accused is in custody and faces charges of arson for allegedly pouring petrol onto the property.
The two-storey house where Dr King spent the first 12 years of his life is a federal landmark.
Its interior was acquired by the National Park Service in 2018 and has been closed to the public since last month for repairs and renovations.
Officers responded to the vandalism in progress in the city’s Auburn Avenue Historic District about 17:45 local time (22:45 GMT) on Thursday, Atlanta police said in a news release.
A video shared with the local WSB-TV news channel shows a woman dressed in all black dousing the porch and front windows of the home.
By the time police arrived, the suspect had been stopped by two visiting filmmakers from Utah and two off-duty police officers from New York who were also visiting the home, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum told reporters.
One of the filmmakers, Zach Kempf, told the New York Times he initially thought the woman was watering shrubs in front of the house before she rushed up the stairs and pulled on the front screen door.
She did not respond when they asked what she was doing, emptying the contents of a five-gallon container before tossing it into the bushes and grabbing a lighter she had left on the grass, he said.
Mr Kempf, 43, said the woman had a “nervous energy” but was not aggressive and walked away after he physically blocked her path.
It was he who called 911 and shouted for help to the two New York officers, who chased down the suspect and restrained her until local police arrived.
The 26-year-old woman’s father and three sisters, who arrived on the scene later, described her as a veteran in mental distress, Mr Kempf told the Times.
The accused was receiving a mental health evaluation before being transferred to the local jail, police said on Thursday night.
She could face further federal charges over her actions.
Local fire officials said no damage was done to the home and a hazardous materials team was cleaning up the scene.
“If the witnesses hadn’t been here and interrupted what she was doing, it could have been a matter of seconds before the house was engulfed in flames,” fire chief Jerry DeBerry said.
“It was really about the timing and the witnesses being in the right place at the right time.”
In a statement, the King Center confirmed the arson attempt had been unsuccessful “thanks to the brave intervention of good Samaritans and the quick response of law enforcement”.
“Our prayers are with the individual who allegedly committed this criminal act,” it added.