Investigators at the Jackson Police Department have arrested 23-year-old Devin McLaurin on suspicion of starting seven fires across Jackson, Mississippi, Tuesday, including two at historically black churches, one of which was completely destroyed.
Officials told ABC News affiliate WAPT that reports of the fires started coming in to police at about 2:45 a.m. The fires were started at Greater Bethlehem Temple Church, Epiphany Lutheran Church, a privacy covering on a fence at the Jackson State University baseball field, a house on Pascagoula Street, a gas station on Terry Road, a structure at Central Street and Dalton, and another structure at Terry and Cherry streets.
Local fire department officials told USA Today that six of the seven fires were extinguished by 6 a.m., but Epiphany Lutheran Church, which is one of the oldest historically black Lutheran churches in Mississippi, was completely destroyed because it burned for more than four hours before the fire was put out.
Patrick Armon, assistant fire chief for the Jackson Fire Department, told WAPT that Election Day was quite eventful and significant manpower was required to bring the fires under control.
“I’ve been here for 30 years. This is a major occurrence,” he said. “This is not something we normally go to. We have about a third of our department on sites.”
Lloyd Caston, 73, an elder at Epiphany told USA Today that a family member that lives near the church called him at 4 a.m. to tell him about the fire and when he got to the 85-year-old church that was renovated in March, it was “fully enflamed.”
Caston said he was awoken around 4 a.m. by a call from a family member who lives in the church’s neighborhood. Alerted to the fire, he left his home and arrived at the church around 4:30 a.m. to find the building “fully enflamed.”
“I was hurt,” Caston told the publication.
“There wasn’t nothing we could do but sit and watch. That was it. It destroyed the church and everything in it,” he added.
A spokesperson for the Jackson Police Department told USA Today that McLaurin, who is black, is being charged with felony malicious mischief. He might also face additional charges after questioning by the FBI.
Shuwaski Young, a former candidate for Mississippi's 3rd Congressional District, called the attacks on the churches “terrorism” meant to suppress votes in the area.
"This morning several churches were burned in Jackson, Mississippi on Election Day. These cowardly actions invoke historical acts of terrorism when people are fighting for their right to vote and live peacefully as Americans and Mississippians," Young said in a statement posted on Twitter Tuesday. "We will not be deterred and will not be intimidated. We will not allow domestic terrorists to suppress our right to vote. I ask all Mississippians to GO VOTE regardless of this decades old intimidation tactic to suppress our votes today. Just Go VOTE."