Church fires in Louisiana: the faithful want to know who burned three of their churches on the ground

The residents and worshipers of the Louisiana Parish, where the three fires took place, prevent any trial, even though officials say they contain "suspicious elements" and that the episodes evoke memories of the fires. acts of hatred perpetrated in the past against black churches.

"I think our district was targeted because the three churches were in our district," Frederic Jack, pastor of the Seventh-day Baptist Missionary Association, told Don Lemon Monday.

"At first we thought it could be an electrical problem, but when the second church … burned, I realized that it was our sister church … then two days later, the third is produced, so at least, think we are targeted. "

The three churches were in St. Landry Parish. The St. Mary Baptist Church, in Port Barre, was burned down on March 26, followed by the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and two days later, from the Baptist Church Mount Pleasant in the same city.

The authorities are also investigating a fourth fire on March 31, which occurred at the predominantly white Vivian United Pentecostal Church in Caddo Parish, more than 200 km north of St. Landry. The fire was intentionally created.

The parish of St. Landry is almost black at 42%. Opelousas is 75% black.

The mayor of the city, Julius Alsandor, called the fires "hideous" church.

"The relevance and impact on the people of the surrounding communities and especially on the congregation of each of these churches, is hurtful and there may be some fear expressed by those who are part of the three churches ", did he declare.

Injury, fear and confusion. This is all that remains to the faithful at the moment.

"We do not know why, we do not know when, we do not know who," said Reverend Gerald Toussaint, who heads the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, at KATC, a subsidiary of CNN. "We will let the authorities take care of that, but we just know a higher power and a higher authority that can bring this matter to a conclusion."

& # 39; More questions than answers & # 39;

In a call for help from the public, Gov. John Bel Edwards said that he had ordered the Fire Marshal as well as local and federal authorities to "conduct an aggressive investigation" on the fires .

"Churches are sacred places and nobody should fear for his safety in his place of worship," he said. "And no one should fear that their place of worship be destroyed."

"Currently, there are more questions than answers, but we hope that the survey will provide information that we will be able to share quickly with the public," he said in his state-of-the-art address. from the state, according to CNN affiliate, KTBS.

The FBI and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives participate in investigations. And while they are looking for answers, the faithful are waiting.

"Something is wrong, something is wrong, but God has the last word," said Ethel Thomas, a member of Mount Pleasant. "We will continue to continue."
"It was heartbreaking, I wanted to cry but I said I will hold it back," she told the news channel. "I had already cried so much when they called to let me know that our church had been burned.I did not know what else to do, I just said 'Lord, you are in control. "

What are the fires called?

Fire Marshal H. "Butch" Browning said in a statement that there was "obviously something going on" in the community.

"We think these three fires are suspicious," Browning said. "We are unable to talk about the cause of the fires nor to say that they are related, although we are aware that there is a problem and that there is no coincidence there are three fires. "

The NAACP described the fires as "domestic terrorism," adding that "the rise in church fires in the southern states is a reflection of the emboldened racial rhetoric and the tension that is spreading across the country."

The ACLU has described the events as "deeply troubling".

But Jack says it's too early to draw conclusions.

"I can not say for one reason or another that the fire itself was a racist act or a hate crime until we could determine who caused them, who has them behind. I do not think we can say, rightly or in all truth, that it was either or, "he told Lemon. "We need the facts before we can generate a thought about what it was."

And the facts may take a while, because most of the evidence has probably disappeared.

"Investigating a fire is a very long process," Browning said. "It's one of the most complicated and unconventional crime scenes you've ever seen because most of the evidence is burned."

"The problem of the investigation of arson is identical to that of bomb investigations: the evidence is destroyed." James Gagliano, CNN's enforcement analyst, said. "That will be the problem, you have to go back and rebuild all that when there is a lot of evidence that has been burned by fire."

The authorities are reviewing a long list of clues.

"A similar type of accelerator, any type of incendiary device that could have been installed there, and then a link in the houses, which could be found on which crime scene could be linked to another, determine whether it was safe. there is a motive and if there is anyone here who is a serial arsonist, "Gagliano said.

Understand this about black churches

Church fires were commonplace at the time of Jim Crow. And the fires in black churches – especially those in the south – immediately evoke such racist attacks.

"For decades, African-American churches have been the epicenter of survival and the symbol of hope for many members of the African-American community," said the president and chief executive officer of NAACP, Derrick Johnson. "As a result, these houses of faith have always been the target of violence."

Why are black church fires associated with hate?
Several black churches in the south were set on fire in 2015, shortly after the mass murder of nine people at the Emanuel AME church. in Charleston, South Carolina, but it is unclear if these fires were racially motivated.
According to the latest data from the National Fire Protection Association, fires in religious and funeral properties have been declining for decades. Between 2007 and 2011, only 16% were considered intentional, according to the association.

Ray Sanchez and Deanna Hackney of CNN contributed to this report.

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