(Photo: KBFX Screenshot)
Vandals and arsonists have made a California church the target of two fires and racially charged graffiti in the past month.
Two weeks ago, on Sept. 9, Bakersfield firefighters arrived at Cain Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and put out a fire that had started at a nearby wooden storage shed and spread to the back wall of the church.
Then more recently on Monday this week, someone lit the contents of a trash dumpster behind the church on fire, and flames spread and scorched the back of the building, according to Bakersfield Now.
When church Rev. Timothy Coston came to investigate the damage of the second fire, he was shocked to find "N------ go home" next to a swastika written on the wall, close to where the fire damage had occurred. A few feet away was another swastika that had the letters "KKK" written next to it.
Longtime church secretary and ordained minister Angela Williams said she initially thought the first fire was accidentally caused by the homeless.
"You see cigarette butts out there from time to time, and we've had trash can fires in the past," Williams told The Bakersfield Californian. "But this, this is different. We've never had anybody write anything like that. I saw that and said, 'Hmmm. We're being targeted.'"
Coston said that during his 30 years on staff, nothing of the sort had ever occurred before.
"We've never had any sort of racial problems, and we've been in this building for years, since the earthquake in the '50s," Coston told the Bakersfield Californian.
Police are investigating the incidents as hate crimes though they have yet to link the two fires together, but the damage caused by both are estimated to be close to $10,000 in total. The unexpected cost comes at a time when the church recently increased its own security budget — installing stronger locks after an individual broke into the church.
While the church is historically African-American, today the congregation includes white and Latino families and has become increasingly diverse.
"We like that, because we think that's the way it should be," said Coston. "I really think that's the way heaven is going to be."
Coston's wife expressed sadness, rather than anger, about the incidents.
"I just feel sorry for whoever this is that has so much hate in their heart that they have to go around and harm churches," said Johnette Coston.
Cain Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church's most recent targeting occured the day after the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. There, a bomb planted by a white supremacist killed four young girls on Sept. 15, 1963.