Woman tried to burn down the Martin Luther King Jr. birth home in Atlanta with gasoline, police say

A woman was arrested Thursday after allegedly trying to burn down the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta police said.

The woman, Laneisha Shantrice Henderson, 26, was stopped by two tourists from Utah after they saw her pouring gasoline on the property, authorities said.

Henderson was charged with second-degree arson and interfering with government property. She was taken to Grady Detention for a psychological evaluation and will be transferred to Fulton County Jail once she’s discharged, police said.

The Atlanta home where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born.
The Atlanta home where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born.David Goldman / AP file

The tourists told officers they were on a work trip from Utah and wanted to visit the historical landmark, which is closed to the public. They said they saw Henderson outside pouring liquid on bushes but initially did not think anything of it, according to an incident report.

The tourists asked Henderson if she was tending to the plants, but she did not answer them. They asked her a few more questions and then noticed that she was carrying a gasoline container, police said.

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

One witness told NBC affiliate WXIA-TV of Atlanta that he stood at the bottom of the stairs outside the home and told Henderson to stop “and blocked her for about a minute, kept blocking her from going up the stairs.”

Bystanders helped detain Henderson until officers arrived. The witnesses said that while they detained her, she allegedly tried to spark the lighter she was holding, the incident report stated.

Police Chief Darin Schierbaum told WXIA that their quick action “saved the jewel of our city.”

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center thanked the people who helped stop Henderson.

“Tonight, an unfortunate incident occurred at the birth home of Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. as an individual attempted to set fire to the historic property. Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful, thanks to the brave good samaritans and the quick response of law enforcement,” the center said in a post on X.

The FBI said it was aware of the incident, but could not comment further.

The home, which the National Park Service acquired in 2018, is currently closed until November 2025 for extensive renovations.