CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — A June 24 fire at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., has been ruled arson. Investigators are trying to determine whether the fire at the mainly African American congregation was also a hate crime.
No one was in the Southern Baptist church at the time of the 1 a.m. fire that took 14 fire engines and 75 firefighters more than an hour to get under control, the Charlotte Observer newspaper reported on the day of the fire. Two firefighters were treated for heat-related injuries, one onsite and the other as an outpatient at an area hospital.
The fire occurred a week after white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine Christians during a Bible study and prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where funerals begin today (June 25).
Senior fire investigator David Williams told the Observer a hate crime had not been ruled out in the arson, but senior pastor Mannix Kinsey said he hopes the crime was not racially motivated. The African American church shares its complex with two immigrant congregations, including a Nepalese church.
“We are still talking about this same issue and this is 2015,” the Observer quoted Kinsey as saying. “We all have to consider what else do we need to do to actually be able to work together.”
The three-alarm fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damages to one of the church’s education buildings, deemed an almost total loss, and its sanctuary complex, which sustained mostly smoke damage, Williams reported. The church campus has six facilities.
Whatever the motivation for the arson, Kinsey said, the church of about 100 members has already forgiven the perpetrator, who had not been identified.
“We’ve already forgiven them and we want to move forward,” Kinsey told WBTV News. “And we are hoping this is an opportunity for Christ to show Himself in their hearts.”
Nora Carter, executive pastor at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, said the congregation has been inundated with media requests and is planning ongoing meetings to determine its next steps.
“There’s nothing for me to report to you at this juncture,” she told Baptist Press.
The Metrolina Baptist Association, where the church holds membership, is assisting the congregation, association executive director Bob Lowman told Baptist Press. Lowman will meet with church leaders to determine their needs.
Already, the association has provided a temporary location for the church’s summer camp scheduled to begin next week, Lowman said.
The church began in 1951 as the predominantly white Commonwealth Baptist Church, the Observer reported, but shifted to a mostly black church as the neighborhood demographics changed. The church has worked for years to reach the ethnically diverse East Charlotte community, home to numerous refugee groups.