By MICHAEL GOLDBERG
Associated Press/Report for America
JACKSON, Miss. — Authorities in Mississippi’s capital city are on the hunt for a suspected arsonist who set seven fires early Tuesday morning.
At least two of the buildings set ablaze in Jackson were churches; one was burnt to the ground. Another one of the fires broke out on fences surrounding the baseball practice field at Jackson State University, a historically Black public university.
“I’ve been here for 30 years. This is a major occurrence,” Patrick Armon, assistant fire chief for the Jackson Fire Department, told WAPT-TV. “This is not something we normally go to. We have about a third of our department on sites.”
Police announced Tuesday afternoon that they have identified a suspect in the arsons and are working to locate that person.
No injuries were reported. Authorities are searching for one suspect, according to Armon and the Jackson Police Department. They did not provide the person’s name or a suspected motivation behind the fires.
Officials started to receive calls about several fires starting around 2:45 a.m. Officials said six of the seven fires were put out by 6 a.m. Epiphany church burned for more than four hours before the fire was extinguished.
Lloyd Caston, 73, an elder at Epiphany, was awoken around 4:00 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 said as he thought back to seeing the church engulfed in flames.
The fire department was on the scene attempting to put out the fire when Caston arrived. He stayed about an hour and left before the fire was extinguished. “There wasn’t nothing we could do but sit and watch,” Caston said. “That was it.”
“It destroyed the church and everything in it,” Caston said. The church is 85 years old, and renovations to the building’s interior had just been completed in March.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba addressed the fires at a Tuesday city council meeting.
“We don’t yet know who or why, but I want to thank the firefighters because they were able to respond to that and still get back to the stations, so that people could set up for voting precincts,” Lumumba stated.
With an election Tuesday morning, no polling places were reported to have been impacted by the fires.
Mississippi State Fire Marshal Office deputies are investigating the fire at the Jackson State University baseball field because it is state-owned property. The agency is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest and arson conviction.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.