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A man was charged with setting a fire at Sen. Bernie Sanders' Vermont office

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses Unite Here Local 11 workers protesting outside of Figueroa Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Friday. Authorities charged a man with setting a fire at his Burlington, Vt., office that same day.
Damian Dovarganes
Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses Unite Here Local 11 workers protesting outside of Figueroa Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Friday. Authorities charged a man with setting a fire at his Burlington, Vt., office that same day.

Updated April 7, 2024 at 3:37 PM ET

Authorities have arrested a man in connection with a fire that broke out at Sen. Bernie Sanders' office in Burlington, Vt., on Friday, damaging the building but leaving occupants unharmed.

Shant Soghomonian, 35, previously of Northridge, Calif., was arrested on Sunday morning, the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Vermont said in a news release. Soghomonian, who is also known by the first name Michael, was charged with using fire to damage the building.

Authorities did not announce a motive.

On Friday morning, the suspect allegedly entered the building and went to the third floor, where Sanders' office is located, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Security video shows Soghomonian allegedly spraying a liquid near the outer door of Sanders' office and then lighting the area with a handheld lighter, prosecutors said. "A blaze quickly began while Soghomonian departed via a staircase," the release read.

The fire damaged the outside of the office door and surrounding areas before the sprinkler system and fire alarms were activated, largely extinguishing the fire, authorities said.

The third floor and floors below also sustained significant water damage, said the Burlington Fire Department.

After fire crews were dispatched to the office building on Friday morning, "The fire was extinguished, and the Senator's office and surrounding offices were searched and cleared of occupants," the department said.

The brick building is home to several office and retail spaces. It formerly housed a Masonic temple and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to local alt-weekly newspaper Seven Days.

"A significant fire engulfed the door and part of the vestibule, impeding the egress of staff members who were working in the office and endangering their lives," Burlington police said in a Friday statement cited by The Associated Press.

If convicted, Soghomonian faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000, prosecutors said.

Sanders, an independent who lives in Burlington and served as its mayor before being elected to Congress, was not in his office or even in the state at the time of the incident. He was rallying with striking hotel workers on the picket line in Los Angeles.

"We are relieved that no one on our staff and, to our understanding, no one in the building was harmed," Sanders' state director Kathryn Van Haste said in a statement Friday to media outlets.

She credited the quick work of local first responders, whom she said were coordinating with U.S. Capitol Police and the Senate Sergeant at Arms.

U.S. Capitol Police protect congressional buildings as well as members of Congress, both in Washington, D.C., and their home districts.

The Capitol Police said in January that threats against lawmakers had climbed last year, with its threat assessment section opening investigations into 8,008 cases. That's about 500 more than it saw in 2022, but still lower than the preceding two years.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.

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