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Investigators looking into fire at Rash Bar in Bushwick

Police seek person who started fire inside Brooklyn bar 02:00

NEW YORK -- Fire ripped through a bar in Brooklyn while people were still inside, and police say it was intentionally set in bizarre fashion.

Claire Bendiner, co-owner of Rash in Bushwick, can barely put into words how she is feeling.

"One of the worst experiences of my life," she told CBS2's Cory James. "I'm certainly shaken."

Her bar that has only taken up the corner of Willoughby  Avenue and Charles Place for five months was set on fire Sunday.

Police say someone walked into the establishment with a bottle of flammable liquid and poured it on the floor before lighting a match and taking off. It was a quick act that unfolded with a few words from the suspect. 

"He said that he was just dumping out water, that he was a cleaner or something like that, and then security questioned him a little more, and then apparently he escalated it, obviously, by lighting the place," Bendiner said.

The owner says there were several people inside when the flames began spreading. Two of them were employees, a bartender and a DJ. Both left with injuries.

"Their, just, bodies have a lot of burns on them because they had to run through the fire to get out," Bendiner said.

Both victims are expected to be OK.

Some neighbors are surprised by what happened.

"It was a place you'd recommend if you had been there before," Bushwick resident Dossey Richards said. "It's got great music. The people there are very, very nice, and there's a very diverse crowd of people."

A crowd people in the community are trying to bring back with a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $40,000 to help the owners reopen what was nearly destroyed.

"I think it's possible that this person did it because it's a queer space. Also possible there could be plenty of other reasons," Bendiner said.

While Bendiner does not have that answer, she hopes the person responsible will do one thing.

"Turn yourself in," she said. "That would be the right thing to do."

Mayor Eric Adams reacted to the incident, tweeting, "Our hearts go out to the team at Rash and the entire LGBTQ+ community of Bushwick. While this incident is still being investigated, make no mistake: anyone who comes into my city looking to spread fear and hatred will pay the consequences."

We're told police have the surveillance video that shows the suspect.

CBS2 asked police if they're looking at this as a hate crime. They say right now, it's still under investigation.

Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). You can also submit a tip via their website or via DM on Twitter, @NYPDTips. All calls are kept confidential.    

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