FBI, state authorities probe 3 'suspicious' blazes at African-American churches in Louisiana

The FBI and state authorities in Louisiana are investigating three “suspicious” fires at historically African American churches in recent days.

The first occurred March 26 at the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, and the second happened Tuesday when the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas caught fire. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas caught fire on Thursday.

The churches, home to African American congregations, were empty at the time of the fires and no injuries were recorded. The authorities said that they are working to determine the motives of the alleged perpetrators and whether the fires were connected.

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Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning was cautious in describing the blazes but called them “suspicious” and added that “If you’re going to turn to a house of God, turn to it for resurrection,” he said.

“There certainly is a commonality,” he said of the possible connection. “Whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know. And that’s not unusual for us not to know at this point.”

“There certainly is a commonality ... Whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know. And that’s not unusual for us not to know at this point.”

— Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning

Browning noted that there are “several other patterns” connecting the fires in addition to the fact that the targets were all black Baptist churches in the same parish.

The ATF and the FBI also are involved in the investigation. Over 40 people from the marshal’s office are currently working on the case, describing it as “extremely active right now.”

Religious leaders gathered on Thursday to talk about the fires and support the affected churches which are well over 100 years old.

Firefighters and fire investigators respond to a fire at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Opelousas, La. Authorities in southern Louisiana are investigating a string of "suspicious" fires at three African American churches in recent days. Fire Marshal H. "Butch" Browning said it wasn't clear whether the fires in St. Landry Parish are connected and he declined to get into specifics of what the investigation had yielded so far but described the blazes as "suspicious."

Firefighters and fire investigators respond to a fire at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Opelousas, La. Authorities in southern Louisiana are investigating a string of "suspicious" fires at three African American churches in recent days. Fire Marshal H. "Butch" Browning said it wasn't clear whether the fires in St. Landry Parish are connected and he declined to get into specifics of what the investigation had yielded so far but described the blazes as "suspicious." (Leslie Westbrook/The Advocate via AP)

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Other parish’s churches, meanwhile, are being provided additional security, according to St. Landry Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, the Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported.

Guidroz promised to do the community to do “whatever it takes to prevent these fires” and to “try to catch this individual.”

“We have a lot of churches in this parish. Lots of churches,” Guidroz told the outlet. “We’re going to take it one day at a time and try to provide the security that they need.”

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a written statement that “Our churches are sacred, central parts of our communities and everyone should feel safe in their place of worship.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.