A suspected arson early Thursday caused extensive damage at an Armenian church in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights neighborhood (Courtesy Alex Bastian)                                A suspected arson early Thursday caused extensive damage at an Armenian church in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights neighborhood (Courtesy Alex Bastian)

A suspected arson early Thursday caused extensive damage at an Armenian church in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights neighborhood (Courtesy Alex Bastian) A suspected arson early Thursday caused extensive damage at an Armenian church in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights neighborhood (Courtesy Alex Bastian)

Police launch hate crime investigations after shots fired near Armenian school

Incident follows anti-Armenian graffiti and suspected arson at church

Police are now investigating a string of incidents at Armenian community centers in San Francisco as hate crimes after gunshots rang out at a school near Lake Merced over the weekend, authorities said Monday.

Officers were patrolling the KZV Armenian School at 825 Brotherhood Way at around 2:25 a.m. Saturday morning when someone fired a bullet that damaged the school’s sign, according to police. No one was injured by the gunfire.

The officers were assigned to guard the school after the campus was tagged with anti-Armenian graffiti in July and a church building on Commonwealth Avenue near the Richmond District caught fire in a suspected arson last Thursday.

The incidents have sparked outrage from officials and come amid heightened tensions between Armenia and its neighboring country, Azerbaijan, that escalated in July when violence broke out along the border.

“We will not tolerate intimidation,” U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, who is of Armenian descent, tweeted in response to the first two incidents. “Love will triumph over hatred. Hope will defeat fear. Those responsible will be held accountable.”

In a statement, the San Francisco Police Department said it had “taken steps to increase the safety and security of the community.”

“However, we ask that the community remain alert and report anything suspicious to the police,” the department said. “Investigators are actively working to identify those responsible for the crimes and to place them under arrest.”

Police said the officers who heard the gunshots near the school Saturday “immediately searched for the source of the gunshots, but no suspects were located.”

On Monday, a spokesperson for the FBI in San Francisco said the agency was aware of the incidents and in“regular contact with local authorities.”

“Should information come to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate,” the agency said.

St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church has established an online fundraiser in response to the fire at its offices last Thursday.

This story has been updated to include a new statement from the FBI.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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