Who Is Setting Black Churches on Fire in St. Louis?


New Life Missionary Baptist Church was lit on fire on Saturday, making it the fifth of six church fires in less than two weeks. - IMAGE VIA ST. LOUIS REGIONAL CRIMESTOPPERS
  • Image via St. Louis Regional CrimeStoppers
  • New Life Missionary Baptist Church was lit on fire on Saturday, making it the fifth of six church fires in less than two weeks.

Worried crimefighters are offering $2,000 for help catching a firebug targeting churches in St. Louis. The supposed arsonist has hit six houses of worship — nearly all of them black congregations — in less than two weeks.

Investigators suspect the fire starter is on a twisted mission to "send a message," authorities said.

On Monday, St. Louis Regional CrimeStoppers partnered with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to post the reward. "It is only a matter of time before someone is injured or harmed as a result of this fire-setting activity," they said in a statement.

Firefighters have arrived to find the doors of the empty churches charred in each case, starting on Oct. 8 at Bethel Nondenominational Church in Jennings. A second blaze two days later roasted the front entrance of New Northside Baptist Church, which is also in Jennings.

Next came fires on Wednesday afternoon at St. Augustine Catholic Church and early Thursday morning at New Testament Church of Christ, less than three blocks away on Minerva Avenue. Saturday morning began with a fire New Life Missionary Baptist Church, and flames torched the doors of Ebenezer Lutheran Church sometime later that day or possibly early Sunday, authorities said.

Investigators are still trying to determine if the fires are motivated by racial hatred, but at least one church leader rejected the idea.

“This is a spiritually sick person,” the Rev. David Triggs of New Life Missionary Baptist Church told the Associated Press. “This is a sin issue. It’s not a race issue.”

Still, the string of fires at predominantly black churches conjures up images of an ugly past, the Anti-Defamation League said.

"They remind us of Night Riders, cross burnings, and Ku Klux Klan terror that was centered on Black churches," the human rights organization said.

To report information to CrimeStoppers, call (866)371-8477 or go to www.stlrcs.org.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at doyle.murphy@riverfronttimes.com.

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