News » Feature

Even With a Suspect in Custody, a String of Church Fires Remains Confounding



Page 6 of 6

The Reverend David Triggs wants congregants to keep the faith after an arsonist torched New Life Missionary Baptist Church. - STEVE TRUESDELL
  • Steve Truesdell
  • The Reverend David Triggs wants congregants to keep the faith after an arsonist torched New Life Missionary Baptist Church.

There seemed a particular meanness to the fire at New Life, the fifth church targeted in the attacks. The arsonist splashed the gasoline on the door as usual, but this time he poured some through the mail slot before lighting the blaze. As a result, the flames raced skyward and cut sideways across the ceiling. The fire burned so hot it melted the siding. Firefighters had to rip down the plaster and lath inside as they chased the flames over their heads.

Pastor Triggs arrived about 5 a.m. as the building smoldered in front of him. The smell of smoke and chemicals stung his nose.

"It's a scent that's just unique," Triggs says. "That smell will always be singed in my memory."

He thinks about Jackson. Someone missed an opportunity with him, he reasons. The eyes tinged red in his mug shot. Tattooed symbols across his face and neck.

"When I look at him, my heart hurts for him, because who really knows what drove him to become the person he is?" Triggs says. "What happened to this person that made him so hateful toward the church?"

The fire was on a Saturday, and Triggs was forced to move services outside on Sunday. A week later the congregation is still meeting on the lawn. About 60 people gather on borrowed chairs under four blue tents donated by the Red Cross and the United Way. It is the public unveiling of New Life's new identity as United Believers in Christ Ministries, a relaunch that Triggs hopes will wipe away old divisions of denomination, race and class.

"I'm extremely exhausted," he tells the assembly. "My last few days have been nothing but media, press and fire departments."

The building wasn't important, he says. The fires have forged new connections with six other churches. God has bigger plans for them, he says.

"I don't want anyone to get discouraged," Triggs tells the group. "Sometimes the building has to be torn down before it can be rebuilt."

The service ends in hugs and handshakes. Later that afternoon, Triggs announces that United Believers will hold one more service on the lawn of their old church before moving on to a temporary home in Baden. He is already working on a theme for the sermon — a talk that will focus on the idea of wandering in the wilderness, only to find the Promised Land at last.

"The Message: The Exodus," he says.


Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.