Police in Mesa, Arizona say they are currently searching for a man suspected of being responsible for six Bible arson fires in the area.
In each of the instances, a suspect has set fire to an entire Bible or pieces of paper outside the door of one of six local churches. Local clergy members have been alerted of the crime and have been advised to take security precautions, as minor damage has been made to one of the church doors. Churches are being advised to confirm their security systems are working at their church.
Sgt. Diana Williams, a spokeswoman for the Mesa Police Department, told The Republic that police are describing the matter as bias crimes, since the arsonist appears to be intentionally targeting churches. "It is being looked at as a bias crime because of the place and the manner where it is taking place,'' the spokeswoman said. "It's a message of some sort, but it's hard to tell what it is."
According to The Republic, the suspect has been described as a white or Hispanic male in his late teens or early twenties who strikes at night and often carries a black backpack and black gloves with him. The fires started in May in Mesa's Fiesta District, and then progressed eastward into the Red Mountain Patrol District in June.
Pastor Mark Rice of Mesa Baptist Church recently recalled when he and fellow parishioners discovered a burned Bible on their doorstep on Mother's Day. "Mother's day morning and this, we were opening up our double doors and as we came out we walked right up on a burned bible," the pastor told Fox News.
"Maybe that was just a first-time prank because it was a totally isolated situation, but when it happened a week later, we realized that it was intentional," the pastor, who took photos of the burnt Bible and handed them over to police, added.
The same church was hit a week later with another Bible burned about two feet from the door and a message that read "Hail, Satan" scratched into the front door.
Pastor Rice added that he hopes the crimes do not become more violent or threatening as they progress. "I'm just hoping it doesn't turn any more aggressive or violent than what it has been."