Three historically black churches have burned in less than two weeks in one south Louisiana parish, where officials said they had found “suspicious elements” in each case. The officials have not ruled out the possibility of arson, or the possibility that the fires are related.
“There is clearly something happening in this community,” State Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a statement. “That is why it is imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.”
The three fires occurred on March 26, Tuesday and Thursday in St. Landry Parish, north of Lafayette. A fourth fire, a small blaze that officials said was “intentionally set,” was reported on Sunday at a predominantly black church in Caddo Parish, about a three-hour drive north.
“But just as we haven’t connected the three in St. Landry, we haven’t connected the one in Caddo,” said Ashley Rodrigue, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal, on Friday.
Local officials said that they were still investigating the fires, and did not say if they knew of any suspects, a motive, or whether racism was an element.
“There certainly is a commonality, and whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know,” Mr. Browning said at a news conference on Thursday.
The F.B.I. and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are involved in the investigation, said Jeff Nowakowski, a spokesman for the A.T.F.’s New Orleans field division.
The Rev. Gerald Toussaint, pastor at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, La., was driving to work on Thursday morning at around 4:45 a.m. when his wife called him to say she had seen on social media that their church was ablaze.
Mr. Toussaint was aware of the two other fires that had been set at nearby houses of worship, St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, and Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas. He rushed to the scene.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: The New York Times, Richard Fausset