A Florida woman was arrested Thursday in Atlanta after she poured gasoline on the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr. and tried to burn down the historical landmark until she was stopped by bystanders, according to authorities.

Officers with the Atlanta Police Department responded at 5:45 p.m. Thursday to a report of vandalism at 501 Auburn Ave. NE, the site of King’s birth in January 1929, authorities said in a news release. An incident report reviewed by The Washington Post says Laneisha Shantrice Henderson “had poured gasoline” on King’s birth home, which is now a museum operated by the National Park Service until she was interrupted by two tourists visiting from Utah. When Atlanta police arrived in the Auburn Avenue Historic District, they found that Henderson had been detained by two off-duty New York Police Department officers who were also visiting Atlanta, according to WSB-TV, an ABC affiliate in Atlanta.

Henderson, 26, of Brandon, Fla., was arrested and charged with criminal attempt arson, a second-degree felony, and criminal attempt interference with government property. Henderson, who is Black, was booked early Friday, according to inmate records.

An Atlanta police spokesperson on Friday declined to give more details on the ongoing investigation. Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum told reporters on Thursday night that the good Samaritans’ actions prevented a disaster.

“That action saved an important part of American history tonight,” Schierbaum said.

Atlanta Fire Department Battalion Chief Jerry DeBerry echoed the sentiment to reporters, saying that the historical landmark honoring the civil rights pioneer would have been decimated.


“If the witnesses hadn’t been here and interrupted what she was doing, it could have been a matter of seconds before the house was engulfed in flames,” DeBerry said.

Henderson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and it’s unclear whether she has an attorney. The King Center confirmed the arson attempt in a statement on Facebook, noting that “fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful, thanks to the brave intervention of good Samaritans and the quick response of law enforcement.”

The two-story Queen Anne-style house that was the home of King’s birth was initially built for a White family in 1895, according to the National Park Service. The home was later purchased in 1909 by the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, who moved into the house with his wife, Jennie Celeste, and their 6-year-old daughter, Alberta Christine, the only child of three to survive infancy.

Alberta Williams married a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church named Michael Luther King in November 1926, and the couple moved in with her parents at the house on Auburn Avenue. The Kings had three children born at the home – the first being Michael Jr., who later took on the name Martin Luther King Jr. after his father changed his name to honor the Reformation leader Martin Luther.

After the Rev. Williams and his wife died of heart attacks, the King family moved to a new home when King was 12. The house remained in the family and later became a rental property. After King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, plans began to make the Auburn Avenue house into a museum honoring his life. The National Park Service acquired the museum in 2018.

King’s birth home closed in recent days as it is undergoing renovations that are expected to last at least a year. Public tours of the home are suspended until November 2025, according to the National Park Service.


Video obtained by WXIA, an NBC affiliate in Atlanta, shows Henderson wearing all black and wielding a large red canister of gasoline. A man is heard on the video interrupting her as she’s dousing the windows on the front porch of King’s birth home with fuel.

“What are you doing?” he said, according to the video. After the woman appeared to wave him off, the man said, “That’s gasoline.”

The edited video from WXIA next shows two off-duty NYPD officers detaining Henderson on the ground before Atlanta police arrive at the scene.

One of the Utah tourists was Zach Kempf, a 43-year-old filmmaker from Salt Lake City who was visiting Atlanta with a co-worker. Kempf, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, told the New York Times that he initially thought the woman was watering the shrubs until he saw the five-gallon gasoline canister.

The incident report says Henderson ignored the questions from Kempf and his co-worker, Bryce Gardy.

“When they realized what was going on they started to plead with Ms. Henderson to stop, but she was ignoring them,” police said in the report. “It also seemed as if she started to rush and pour the gasoline out faster on and around the historical house.”


As Henderson got a lighter she had grabbed from the grass, Kempf said he blocked her from returning to the porch to set ablaze King’s birth home.

“And I yelled at the two guys down the street that she was trying to set the house on fire and to follow her,” he told the Times.

After the off-duty officers detained Henderson, Kempf recalled that people who identified themselves as the woman’s family approached the scene and described her as a veteran in mental distress.

“Obviously, the house is so important, and I’m really glad nothing happened to it,” Kempf said. “But I feel like now I’m mostly just concerned for her well-being.”

Henderson was transferred to Grady Detention Center in Atlanta for evaluation and will be transferred to Fulton County Jail once she is discharged, according to police. It’s unclear when she will have to appear in court.

“Quick action saved the jewel of our city, something very important to Atlanta,” Schierbaum said.

The King Center, a nonprofit honoring the legacy of King and his wife Coretta Scott King, said in a statement that Henderson was in their thoughts.

“Our prayers are with the individual who allegedly committed this criminal act,” the organization wrote.

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