A historic Black church was among seven buildings burned in an arson spree in Mississippi, police and local news outlets report.
Epiphany Lutheran Church was completely gutted by the overnight blaze, one of several reported across Jackson in the early hours of Tuesday, Nov. 8, according to the city’s police.
Hinds County Sheriff deputies arrested Devin McLaurin, 22, in connection with the string of fires that authorities said were intentionally set. No injuries were reported in the blazes, which all occurred near Jackson State University’s campus, according to WJTV.
Epiphany suffered the most damage after it burned for “more than four hours” as firefighters battled the flames, WAPT reported. Photos of the aftermath show the church’s charred remains with only a piece of its frame left standing amid the rubble.
“This church has been here since back in the 1940s,” longtime church member Bobby Hathorne told the station. “It’s one of the oldest predominately Black Lutheran churches in the state of Mississippi. This is a shock to us that something like this could happen.”
Authorities said they started getting calls about the fires around 2:30 a.m., according to The Clarion-Ledger. McLaurin was identified as a suspect after police said he was seen in the vicinity of where the blazes were set.
“The fires that caused the most damage were located on Dalton Street and Isaiah Montgomery Road,” Assistant Jackson Fire Chief Patrick Armon told the newspaper. “Fires were set on Robinson Road, Pascagoula Street, Briggs Street, Isaiah Montgomery Street, Lynch Street, Dalton Street and Terry Road.”
Epiphany was one of two churches that caught fire. Greater Bethlehem Temple Church also suffered some damage, WAPT and WJTV reported.
News of the fires rocked the predominantly Black community, prompting fears that the incidents may have been racially or politically motivated. U.S. Census data shows Black Americans make up about 82% of Jackson’s population, compared to 16% white residents and less than 2% Latinos.
“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 … voting precincts,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said at a city council meeting before the suspect’s arrest, WJTV reported.
No polling locations were affected for Election Day, city fire officials said.
McLaurin was booked into the Hinds County Jail where he remains as of Wednesday, Nov. 9, online records show. Authorities are working to determine a motive and said the fires remain under investigation.