Police are searching for a man they say walked into a Brooklyn bar around 9:00pm on Sunday night, poured gasoline on the floor and started a fire, before running out.
Rash Bar, which only opened five months ago on the corner of Willoughby and Myrtle Aves., had quickly become popular with the LGBTQ community and was often packed with patrons late into the night.
On Sunday, three staff members were working when the man walked into the bar and started emptying the gas cannister on the floor, NBC News reports.
"I was standing right here actually when it happened, I had just stepped out,” owner Claire Bendiner told NBC. "Everyone rushed out. The side door has a glass front and I looked over and saw flames to the top of ceiling. It was crazy, it happened so fast."
The bar suffered immense damage with the fire and two people had to be transported to hospital.
Bendiner said the man left the gas cannister on the bar counter, which had become a key piece of evidence in trying to track him down. Police are reviewing surveillance from a gas station around the corner that showed someone filling up a gas can minutes before the fire and the bar has released surveillance footage on its Instagram page.
According to Gay City News, police would not say if the incident is being investigated as a hate crime targeting LGBTQ individuals.
“That’s a fear and that is the first thing that comes to mind,” co-owner Jake Sillen told Gay City News. “Right now, there is just nothing about the identity or motive of this person, so we don’t want to jump to conclusions. But it’s hard not to come to that conclusion.”
The bar has launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for staff who are now out of work which has hit $53,000 of its $200,000 goal. The bar is closed for now as the owners look to the rebuild.
“It has been a tough week for pretty much everybody that we work with, and right now we’re not really thinking about anything too far in the future — but we’re definitely going to come back from this,” Sillen told Gay City News.