BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A man described as mentally disturbed was jailed Tuesday on suspicion of setting fire to an abandoned church in what authorities said was a copycat of the recent church arsons in rural Alabama.
Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said the arrest was "absolutely not" otherwise linked to the fires that have destroyed or damaged 10 rural Baptist churches since Feb. 3 in central and west Alabama.
The man lived beside the old White Plains Church of God, where flames heavily damaged a storage room Monday night, and has a brother who is a volunteer firefighter, Calhoun County Chief Deputy Matthew Wade said.
"He wanted to see his brother put out a fire," Wade said.
Amerson said investigators believe the suspect, whom he identified as Jason Phillips, 21, also started several brush fires after watching news coverage of the church arsons.
"In that sense, it is a copycat case," Amerson said.
Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said no arrests have been made in the other blazes, all of which have been ruled arson.
Phillips will be charged with setting fire to the old church and torching a truck that was burned earlier at a field near his home, authorities said. He said Phillips' firefighter brother was not charged.
Amerson said Phillips is believed to be either mentally retarded or mentally ill.