Nikki Joly #homophobia #transphobia detroitnews.com

When the home of Nikki Joly burned down in 2017, killing five pets, the FBI investigated it as a hate crime.

After all, the transgender man and gay rights activist had received threats after having a banner year in this conservative town.

In the prior six months, he helped open the city’s first gay community center, organized the first gay festival and, after 18 years of failed attempts, helped lead a bruising battle for an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against gays.

For his efforts, a local paper named him the Citizen of the Year.

Authorities later determined the fire was intentionally set, but the person they arrested came as a shock to both supporters and opponents of the gay rights movement. It was the citizen of the year — Nikki Joly.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Travis Trombley, a gay resident who fought for the ordinance. “How do you do it to the community you have put so much effort into helping?”

Why Joly, 54, would allegedly burn down his home remains a mystery. He didn’t own the house, which was insured by its owner, police said.

His attorney said the lack of a motive cast doubt on the case.

Meanwhile, a police investigative report suggests a possible reason for the fire.

Two people who worked with Joly at St. Johns United Church of Christ, where the Jackson Pride Center was located, said he had been frustrated the controversy over gay rights had died down with the passage of the nondiscrimination law, according to the report.

The church officials, Barbara Shelton and Bobby James, when asked by police about a possible motive for the fire, said Joly was disappointed the Jackson Pride Parade and Festival, held five days before the blaze, hadn’t received more attention or protests.

Sherry Shriner #conspiracy detroitnews.com

Redford Township — Kelly Pingilley was trying to make sense of the voices in her head when she went looking for answers on the Internet.

She stumbled upon a website promoting a religion that believes in UFOs, vampires, conspiracy theories and doomsday prophecies.

Pingilley was drawn to the writings of time travel and people's thoughts being controlled by cell phone towers, friends said. With the teachings feeding into her delusions, Pingilley's behavior grew increasingly erratic.

In December, she wrote in a personal blog that the world was about to end in a lurid outburst of cannibalism, bestiality and the moon dripping blood. One week later she killed herself. She was 22.

"Someone in that state of mind can potentially be very vulnerable and suggestible," said Rick Ross, a frequently used expert witness whose Trenton, N.J., institute has been tracking cults for 17 years.

"The combination of a mentally unstable person and a destructive cult can be a very volatile mix."

Ross wasn't aware of Sherry Shriner, the woman behind the website that attracted Pingilley.

Pingilley's family and friends blame her death on the fringe religion, saying leader Shriner filled Pingilley's head with scary, apocalyptic thoughts.

"Kelly didn't hitch a ride on a spaceship. She didn't die peacefully," said Debra McCorkle, 54, a Pingilley family friend from Johnson City, Tenn.

"It was a cold and silent death alone in the woods. She was looking for God, and Shriner steered her into some weird crap."

Pingilley's grandmother, Kellie Pingilley, agrees.

"She's done a lot of damage," Pingilley, 73, of Southfield, said about Shriner. "Someone should do something about her."

Kellie Pingilley declined to say why the family failed to get help for her granddaughter's apparent affliction. Other family members didn't want to be interviewed.

Shriner, who believes God put her on earth to stop the arrival of the Antichrist, said in an interview she wasn't aware how irrational Pingilley had become until reading her blog after her death.

If she had known, she said, she would have done something to help her.

"Her last blog — I don't know where she came up with it," said Shriner, 47, of Carrollton, Ohio, near Canton. "Some stuff was pretty out there. It was just crazy."

But Shriner also said she didn't believe Pingilley killed herself. She said the death was made to look like a suicide by the people who really killed her — a NATO hit squad.