April 7 (UPI) — Three black churches in a Louisiana parish will conduct services Sunday in different locations after fires over 10 days destroyed their historic buildings.
Congregations will meet in temporary places offered to them. All three fires are considered total losses.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have joined the investigation into the blazes — from March 26 to Thursday — in rural St. Landry Parish near Baton Rouge.
“We believe these three fires are suspicious,” State Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a CNN report. “We are falling short of talking about what caused the fires, falling short of saying they are related, however cognizant that there is a problem and no coincidence that there are three fires.”
The first fire occurred at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. Then Greater Union burned Tuesday and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, also in Opelousas, followed two days later.
“We’re gonna solve this,” Brown said in a CBS report. “For the people responsible, the right thing to do would be 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.”
Pastor Harry Richard, standing outside the charred remains of the Greater Union Baptist Church, said he looked forward to meeting with his congregation Sunday.
“Quite naturally, something like this would shake us up,” he told KLFY-TV. “I’m very concerned, but I’m very optimistic because of our faith in God and, no matter what happens, I feel like this is his plan. He’s going to bring me through this.”
Richard told KATC-TV the church has been around for 100 years.
“Our parents, grandparents went here, buried in the back there some of them are,” Richard said.
A fourth fire, which was a smaller one Sunday at the predominantly white Vivian United Pentecostal Church in Caddo Parish more than 200 miles north of the churches, also was being investigated as being intentionally set.
Burning of black churches used to intimidate communities and parishioners.
“You got to have a certain degree of anger because there’s no reason for this,” Deacon Earnest Hines, of 140-year-old Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, told WBRZ-TV. “You know the history of our country. During the civil rights struggle, they had all these incidents that would happen and sometimes that happens again.”
St. Mary’s Baptist was built in the 1880s.