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Ex-pastor’s son admits anger in arson that destroyed church

HIXSON, Tenn. (BP)–A man who was angry with his father burned down the church where his father was pastor in 1998, according to arson investigators.

Steve Nichols, 37, of Maryville, Tenn., was indicted Feb. 22 with one count of arson. Investigators said Nichols set the fire that destroyed Hixson (Tenn.) Baptist Church, where his father, Bill Nichols, was the pastor, with damage estimated at $130,000.

Lt. Robert Lackey, with Chattanooga’s Fire Investigation Division, said the younger Nichols confessed to being angry with his father in committing the crime.

Nichols told investigators he poured fuel on his father’s desk in the church office, set it on fire, then closed the door and left the building, according to a report in the Chattanooga Times & Free Press.

Nichols was released on a $13,000 bond. Nichols’ father resigned from the pulpit a few weeks after the fire and moved away.

The church not only has a new pastor, but a new name. Steve Cape, pastor of what is now called Hillside Baptist Church, said the news of Nichols’ arrest is devastating.

“I came here one month after the fire,” Cape told the Chattanooga newspaper. “Only a handful of people currently in the church were here at the time of the fire. Those people are very shocked, saddened and upset, if the charges are true.”

He said church members told him there were no signs of trouble in the Nichols family. Steve Nichols was their only child.

“I’ve been told that the family never seemed out of line,” Cape said. “They thought the Nicholses were a close-knit and loving family.”

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  • Todd Starnes