Two years ago this New Year’s Eve, Capitol Hill nearly suffered a horrific tragedy. More than 700 people were partying to ring in 2014 when an arsonist set Broadway’s iconic gay dance club on fire. No one was seriously injured inside Neighbours that night thanks to fast acting staff and patrons who were able to douse the flames before they spread to the packed dance floor.
As the crime drifts into the neighborhood’s history as a sad reminder of the dangers of hate and mental illness, the case against the troubled former Capitol Hill resident who tried to burn the club down didn’t end until 2015.
Musab Masmari admitted to setting the New Year’s Eve fire inside the crowded club, blaming his actions on drinking too much alcohol before setting the fire. Police and FBI arrested Masmari following a month-long investigation into the New Year’s Eve arson. According to police, Masmari had a one-way ticket to Turkey and was carrying both his Libyan and United States passports at the time of his arrest outside a Bellevue home. Police say“numerous” people called in to identify Masmari as the man seen in images from surveillance video recorded at the club the night of the attack.
Under a plea deal, the defendant did not face terrorism or a hate crime charges — though, according to the prosecution, a “confidential informant” told investigators that Masmari said homosexuals should be “exterminated.” In a statement as part of the plea, Masmari said he drank an entire “cheap bottle of whiskey” on New Year’s Eve and told the court he did not remember what happened afterwards.
In July of 2014, Judge Ricardo S. Martinez handed down a 10-year sentence in the case — twice the amount of time prosecutors and Masmari’s lawyers were asking for under the plea agreement. An appeal of the sentence on technical grounds wound its way through the justice system in the months following. This summer, a federal appeals court ruled that the 10-year sentence against Masmari was just and should stand:
Masmari remains imprisoned at California’s Mendota Federal Correctional Institution. He also owes nearly $90,000 in restitution for the crime.
Neighbours, meanwhile, continues to do its thing on Broadway. Incidents like this small arson fire set outside the club in August are a reminder of the concerns about anti-LGBTQ violence in the neighborhood. But the 33-year-old club perseveres — and has a good time doing it. Its party, of course, is on the Capitol Hill list of 2015/2016 New Year’s Eve celebrations.