Cuba charter business allegedly fire bombed
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (WSVN) -- Fire investigators are examining the charred remains of a Coral Gables business believed to have been the target of a fiery attack.
Vivian Mannerud suspects that someone tossed a Molotov cocktail at the building where she has operated an international charter flight business that specializes in trips to Cuba since 1982. Most recently, the Archdiocese of Miami hired the company, Airline Brokers Company Inc., to transport 300 people from South Florida to the island for the Pope's historic visit, at the end of March.
Mannerud received a call from the alarm company at 3:15 in the morning, Friday. She arrived on the scene to find her business gutted and charred with the windows blown out. "Very, very sad," she said. "It's horrible, but it's just hard," she said. "It's a sad thing for my country."
Mannerud spent most of Friday afternoon sobbing outside of her business, as investigators looked through the rubble and cleaned up the scene. "It might have been intentional," said Mannerud, convinced that someone purposefully set her company up in flames. "I can only tell you what my gut is telling me."
She was finally allowed into her business to retrieve a computer hard drive which, she says, she needs to file a report with the Department of Homeland Security.
The business has been controversial for many years, sending thousands of people to their native Cuba, and some have shown negative feelings toward it in the past. Mannerud believes someone may have hit the building with a Molotov cocktail, but stops short of naming any possible subjects. "There's people that do not agree with the charter flights to Cuba and will go to any lengths to stop them," she said.
The ATF, FBI and Fire Marshal enlisted the help of a K-9 unit to sniff out accelerants or anything else suspicious inside the structure. The trained dog sat down several times, signifying it found something, which put officers on alert.
The business owner said she has been targeted in the past, but she is not alone. Three separate incidents occurred in 1996, in which companies who do business with Cuba were attacked by fire bombs. Mannerud said, "In my 32 years of business, I've seen this happen to many other people."
Mannerud plans to rebuild these offices. She said she is not giving up on what she does, and she believes in providing those charter flights to Cuba. "I will continue, if I have to sit on this sidewalk and write things with a chalkboard," she said.
Investigators have cleared the scene. They will take everything they extracted from the scene and send it in as evidence. It can take weeks before it is determined whether or not the blaze was intentional.
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