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Good Samaritans stopped a 26-year-old woman Thursday afternoon as she poured gasoline on the Atlanta birth home of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and tried to burn it down.
Two tourists from Utah and two off-duty New York police officers were among the witnesses who quickly stepped up until Atlanta officers could arrive on scene, according to WANF.
“Their quick action saved the jewel of our city, something very important to Atlanta,” Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said.
Laneisha Shantrice Henderson has been charged with criminal attempt to commit arson and interference with government property.
Zach Kempf recorded the woman pouring liquid from a red can on the 128-year-old home’s front porch. When he saw her pick up a lighter, he said, he took action.
“I stood at the stairs and said, ‘You can’t do this,’ and blocked her for about a minute,” Kempf said.
Henderson began to walk away, Kempf said, and the two off-duty officers from New York held her down.
“If the witnesses hadn’t been here and interrupted what she was doing, I mean, it could’ve been a matter of seconds before the house was engulfed in flames,” Atlanta Fire Department Batallion Chief Jerry DeBerry said.
King’s birth home, just up the street from the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King served until his 1968 assassination, was obtained by the National Park Service in 2018 and has been closed for extensive renovations since November. It is scheduled to reopen in 2025.
The King Center released a statement thanking “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,” the center said.
Police have not said if Henderson provided a motive.