A memorial honoring Michael Brown that lay just feet from where the unarmed teen was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, last month was burned early on Tuesday morning, according to fire officials.
The Ferguson Fire Department received a call around 6:45 a.m. about a fire on Canfield Drive. When firefighters arrived, they found the memorial residents had erected in Brown’s honor in flames, which they extinguished. For more than a month people had lit candles, laid cards and balloons and tied balloons to the memorial.
The memorial was one of two at the scene of the Aug. 9 shooting, this one erected around a telephone pole, the other in the center of Canfield Drive where Brown fell after being shot about a half-dozen times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson after a brief struggle between the two. Police say Wilson shot Brown after the teen reached for the officer’s gun. Witnesses say Wilson shot at Brown as he tried to run away and fired the fatal gunshots as Brown turned with his hands up in surrender.
Fire officials told NBC News on Tuesday that they were not sure what caused the fire, but that there was evidence that candles were part of the memorial.
Witnesses have speculated that the fire was started intentionally and that police, who initially responded to the fire, did little to put out the flames.
Several hours after the fire was extinguished, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson issued a statement in which he said police did everything they could to put out the fire before the fire department arrived on the scene.
“We’re all saddened by the fire that was reported at one of the Michael Brown memorials this morning and are trying to obtain as much information as possible to determine what happened,” Jackson said. “To anyone who believes we didn’t do everything in our power to put this fire out I want to apologize and let you know that was not the case.”
Jackson said that some police cars are equipped with emergency kits that include fire extinguishers and that a police sergeant was the first on the scene and attempted to put the fire out. He couldn’t, so the officer alerted the fire department. Jackson said the cause of the fire remains a mystery and implored anyone with information or video to contact police.
The spot where Brown died had become a sort of mecca for supporters and protesters. Clergy members held prayer circles that spanned the width of Canfield Drive, with folks bowing their heads and holding hands or linking arms.
In the weeks after Brown was killed, protesters calling for justice in the teen’s death would begin or end marches at the very location he took his last breaths. Much of the early angst over Brown’s killing was a result of how law enforcement officials treated his body after the shooting. They left his remains uncovered in the middle of the street for more than four hours, baking in the afternoon sun for all to see.
“I woke up to it,” Marcus Henley, a resident of the apartment complex near the scene, said of the burning memorial. “They light candles every night with no problem. I think somebody set it on fire. And that says a lot to me.”
Fire officials said they are still investigating the cause.
By early Tuesday residents, local media and supporters of Brown began posting images showing the burning memorial and its remains to social media.