published : 2023-12-10

Arson Suspect Named in Attempted Fire at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birth Home

Laneisha Shantrice Henderson caught on camera dousing the historic home with gasoline

A photo taken with a Nikon D850 capturing Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth home in Atlanta at dusk, showcasing its historic charm and architectural beauty.

A woman was arrested on Thursday after dousing Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth home in Atlanta with gasoline during an attempt to set it on fire.

Laneisha Shantrice Henderson, 26, has been charged with attempted arson and interfering with government property after she was seen on camera pouring the flammable liquid out of a large red fuel container and onto the porch of the historic wooden property at around 5:45 p.m. Thursday.

The footage also shows the woman — who was dressed in all-black clothing — dousing plants and emptying the liquid against the windows of the Auburn Avenue house, which is located just blocks from the King Center, King National Historical Park, and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

She was stopped in her tracks by two tourists and then apprehended by two off-duty NYPD cops until Atlanta police arrived on the scene and arrested her.

The woman, who is understood to suffer from mental health issues, was transported to Grady Detention Center for evaluation before being transferred to Fulton County Jail, police said.

It is unclear why she intended to burn the building down. She could also face federal charges in connection with the incident, according to authorities.

Zachary Eugene Kempf, from Utah, who shot the shocking video and is one of the two tourists who stopped Henderson, said he was in Atlanta for work reasons when he decided to visit the house. He began recording this footage as he noticed the woman pouring gasoline around the house.

A close-up shot taken with a Canon EOS R capturing Laneisha Shantrice Henderson being apprehended by the off-duty NYPD cops outside Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth home in Atlanta.

"She seemed a little irritated and on edge," Kempf told reporters.

Kempf said that when Henderson came down the porch steps, he told her to stop, and he then blocked her repeated attempts to go back up.

"She was never violent or aggressive with me, but she kept trying to get past, and I kept blocking her," he explained.

Kempf said Henderson never responded when he asked her what she was doing.

Henderson then threw the empty canister into the bushes and grabbed a lighter that she had left in the grass next to the porch. Kempf immediately called 911.

Kempf then yelled at two men down the street for help, who happened to be two off-duty NYPD officers. They apprehended Henderson until Atlanta Police officers arrived at the scene.

The video also shows one of the NYPD cops holding Henderson down on the ground with her hands behind her back. She was later escorted away by Atlanta police.

A powerful image taken with a Sony A7 III showing Zachary Eugene Kempf standing bravely in front of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth home, capturing the moment he confronts Laneisha Shantrice Henderson and prevents the fire from happening.

Henderson’s family arrived on the scene and said they had been looking for her. Her relatives described her as a veteran who was experiencing mental distress.

Atlanta Fire Department Battalion Chief Jerry DeBerry mentioned that, after the fuel was poured, the home could have caught fire in a matter of seconds. The fire department's HAZMAT team worked to clean up the gasoline on the property.

A Chevrolet sedan believed to be the woman’s car was also seized by police.

The home, currently under renovation, is closed to visitors until 2025.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth home, a framed two-story Queen Anne-style structure built in 1895, played a vital role in commemorating the early life of the civil rights leader and his siblings.