The FBI has joined the investigation of “suspicious” fire that hit three historically Black churches in Lousiana all within a week of one another.
According to People, the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre caught fire first on March 26. A week later, on April 2 and then on April 4, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church respectively caught fire.
“We’re very cognizant that there’s a problem, and there’s no coincidence that there are three fires,” State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said at a press conference last week. “We believe these three fires are suspicious.”
The fires hearken back to the civil rights era when violence – including the burning of churches – was used to intimidate the Black community.
“We can’t let this setback stop us from doing what God initially called us to do,” Kyle Sylvester, the pastor of St. Mary’s Baptist Church said.
Still, the fires have instilled a great sense of loss. The fire at Greater Union Baptist burned from the roof to the pews, according to CBS. Pastor Harry Richard’s grandfather was one of the people who helped start the church, making the damage personal.
“He left a legacy for me and I was trying to fulfill that to the best of my ability,” he said.
Even as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms get involved in the investigation, officials are still shying away from categorizing the fires as a hate crime, saying it is too early to make that determination.
Still, Browning vowed that the incident will be dealt with.
“We’re gonna solve this. For the people responsible, the right thing to do would be to come ask for redemption and come forward and let us help you through this process, don’t make us hunt you down, because we will,” he said.