Woman charged with attempting to burn down Martin Luther King Jr. birth home identified

Two retired New York City Police officers and two Utah tourists are being credited with helping to stop the intentional burning of what Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum describes as a "jewel of the city."

Atlanta police officers rushed to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth home in Atlanta just after 5:45 p.m. Thursday after reports of vandalism in progress.

Chief Schierbaum says two tourists from Utah saw the woman dousing the plants, porch, and the front door of the home with what smelled like gasoline. The bystanders told officers they intervened when they saw her try to ignite a lighter.

Meanwhile, two retired NYPD officers visiting the area were able to detain the woman until APD officers arrived at the scene. A video shared with FOX 5 shows a woman being detained on the ground by officers.

Atlanta Fire Department Battalion Chief Jerry DeBerry says with the fuel down, it could have been just a matter of seconds before the structure caught fire.

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Atlanta police investigate an attempted vandalism of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth home along Auburn Avenue on Dec. 7, 2023. (FOX 5)

The fire department’s HAZMAT team will work to clean up the gasoline spill.

The name of the woman was released early Friday morning. Atlanta Police identified her as 26-year-old Laneisha Shantrice Henderson. She has been charged with arson in the 2nd degree and interfering with government property. She has been booked into Fulton County Jail.

Federal charges could be possible.


Laneisha Henderson (Atlanta Police Department)

The King Center put out a statement saying, "Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful thanks to the brave intervention of Good Samaritans and the quick response of law enforcement … Our prayers are with the individual who allegedly committed this criminal act.

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth home under renovation

The home, which is located along Auburn Avenue just blocks from the King Center, King National Historical Park, and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, has been undergoing renovations for the past couple of weeks.

Built in 1895, the birth home, a framed two-story Queen-Anne style structure, has played a pivotal role in commemorating the early life of the civil rights icon and his siblings. 

While the home has undergone various renovations over the years, the current project is set to address major structural and system improvements, including electrical, HVAC, and fire suppression as well as structural enhancements including additional crawlspaces, window and door repairs, exterior siding and porch renovations, exterior painting, driveway re-paving, foundation re-pointing, replacement of the backyard fence, and drainage improvements.

The current renovations will take place until the end of 2025. The home will be closed until the project is finished.