Updated Feb. 8, 3:06 p.m. EST
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BP)–Four more churches in central Alabama were damaged or destroyed during the night of Feb. 6, just days after a suspected arsonist set five churches in another part of the state on fire.
The latest fires took place in the western part of central Alabama, near the Mississippi border. All are rural Baptist churches, and all are located within 10-20 miles of one another. None are Southern Baptist.
Two churches were destroyed: Galilee Baptist in Panola and Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church near Boligee. Two other churches — Dancy First Baptist Church near Aliceville and Spring Valley Baptist Church near Emelle — were damaged.
“Obviously we’re going to investigate these as suspected arsons,” Ragan Ingram, the state assistant insurance commissioner, told the Associated Press.
The latest fires comes just four days after five Baptist churches in rural Alabama — include four Southern Baptist ones — were burned by arson. Three of those churches were destroyed.
“It is such a vibrant church and the people were so active,” Mary Paluzzi, Aliceville’s city manager, told Reuters. “There is no explaining how mean people can be. They hit people who don’t have means and who give so much of their little.”
Johnny Archibald, a member of Morning Star Baptist, told AP: “I don’t know what’s going on. It’s just sickness.”
Of the first group of fires, four were predominantly white churches. By contrast, the last batch of fires were all predominantly black churches.
“Obviously, somebody or somebodies are interested in burning down churches, whether it’s hate against a race or a religion in general, we don’t know,” Ingram told CNN.
Both federal and state officials have swarmed to the two sites, looking for clues. Rich Marianos, a spokesman for the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency, told CNN: “This is our No. 1 priority nationally.” Marianos said the federal government agency had more than 50 agents in the investigation.
With reporting by Grace Thornton, The Alabama Baptist.