6 Predominantly Black Churches Burned Outside St. Louis

October 21st 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Arsons at six predominantly Black churches over the past two weeks have put religious communities in the St. Louis area on edge. Officials say the arsons are connected, each set in the entryway of church buildings, but they have declined to say whether or not race was a factor in the crimes.

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The latest fire took place on Sunday morning, as flames burned through the doorway of Ebenezer Lutheran Church as churchgoers arrived for Sunday service.

Federal and state agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, are currently investigating, the New York Times reported. The arsonist appears to be targeting churches in predominantly Black communities around St. Louis, where protestors rallied after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown last year.

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In a statement, law enforcement officials offered a $2,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible, imploring the public to assist in the investigation.

"We believe that this activity may be the result of stress experienced in the subject's life, which may be noticeable to those around him or her," the statement said. "If you have observed anyone who has recently expressed anger or frustration with our religious community or with these particular churches, we ask that you contact us."

So far, no injuries have been reported as the churches were vacant during the fires. For the most part, the damage has been minor, fire officials say. They've occurred at different times of the day at a range of buildings, "from small storefronts to larger, elegant structures."

"We haven't had these, and now you got six in about a 10-day period," Sam Dotson, the St. Louis police chief, told the Times.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called the arsons "cowardly acts of violence against places of worship" and "deeply troubling," offering state assistance in the investigation. "Houses of worship must be safe havens where people can come together in faith and fellowship—not the targets of hate and violence."

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