Black Churches Targeted, Burned in Wake of Charleston Massacre; FBI Launches Probe

The Charlotte Fire Department responds to a fire at the Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Charlotte Fire Department responds to a fire at the Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. | (Photo: Charlotte Fire Department)

The FBI is investigating a string of fires that have occurred over the past week at primarily black churches in the South and so far at least three of them have been ruled an arson.

Less than one week after 21-year-old white suspect, Dylann Roof, allegedly opened fire and killed nine worshipers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, churches in Tennessee, Georgia, South and North Carolina and Florida caught fire and investigators are trying to determine whether the blazes are connected.

"They're being investigated to determine who is responsible and what motives are behind them," FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson told BuzzFeed News. "I'm not sure there is any reason to link them together at this point."

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On June 22, five days after the Charleston massacre, the College Hill Seventh-day Adventist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, was set ablaze along with a church van parked outside. The incident has been ruled an act of arson but police determined that it was not a hate crime.

"When I look at this I see, I think of an intention to try to destroy this entire church," pastor Cleveland Hobdy III told "It makes it sad. It's sad either way that someone would put their mind to try to damage a church that's trying to help people."

The following day, a fire deemed "suspicious" by investigators occurred at The God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. Investigators determined that arsonists are to blame for that fire.

"Right now we are investigating as if it was a set fire," Sgt. Ben Gleaton, an arson investigator for the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department, told the Macon Telegraph.

Jeanette Dudley, an assistant pastor for Macon's Church of Christ, told The New York Daily News that "The times that we're living in ... it's not going to get any better. It's going to get worse."

The third arson incident occurred on Wednesday at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, a primarily black church in East Charlotte, North Carolina. Pastor Mannix Kinsey was left devastated after the fire, which authorities say was intentionally lit, causing $250,000 in damages.

"We have already forgiven them and we're hoping that the investigation will take its place and do what's necessary," Kinsey told WBTV. "These buildings can be repaired, they can be built over. This is the opportunity for God to really touch the hearts of individuals … we don't have any malice against anyone else."

That same day, the Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee, was engulfed in flames though investigators say that lighting may have been the cause.

Authorites are also still trying to determine what caused a fire to break out Friday at the Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina. Another fire that day at The Greater Miracle Temple in Tallahassee, Florida, is also being investigated. Investigators believe in this case, however, that an electrical fault triggered by a fallen tree might have caused it.

On Saturday, there was also a blaze at The College Heights Baptist Church in Elyria, Ohio, which is also under investigation. Damage is estimated to be around $1 million, according to reports.

The church fires come amid growing debates about the Confederate flag, which opponents want removed from Capitol grounds in South Carolina.

Last week, President Barack Obama called the Confederate flag "a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation" during an impassioned eulogy at the Charleston funeral for Emanuel AME church pastor Democratic State Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Email me: Connect with me on Twitter: @MzBenge

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