Fires have destroyed three predominantly black St. Landry Parish Baptist churches in Louisiana in the last two weeks, as investigators seek clues into who might be involved.
It started last month, when St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre was destroyed in a fire early in the morning on March 26.
In an emotional video, U.S. Representative Clay Higgins, R-La., implored whoever set the fires to step forward.
Here’s what we know now about the fires:
Are the fires related?
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning acknowledged Thursday that they’ve discovered several “patterns” at the three crime scenes.
“There certainly is a commonality,” he said. “Whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know. And that’s not unusual for us not to know at this point.”
The fact that it is three black Baptist churches in the same parish is obviously a pattern. “And there are several other patterns,” Browning added.
What’s the status of the investigation?
As many as 200 people, including investigators at the federal level, have been dedicated to examining the details of the case.
In addition to the State Fire Marshal, the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and the St. Landry Fire District 3, the Opelousas Police Department, the Louisiana Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI also are investigating the fires.
St. Landry Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said he is working with Opelousas police to provide extra security and patrols to the parish’s churches. He said he’s willing to do “whatever it takes to prevent these fires” and to “try to catch this individual.”
Where are the churches meeting in the meantime?
On Sunday, the churches still held worship services, just in different locations. Mount Pleasant met at Morning Star Baptist Church, both of which are led by Rev. Gerald Toussaint, for a fiery sermon that referenced Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Members of St. Mary met at a storefront location in north Opelousas. Those from Greater attended services in a building on Lincoln Street in Opelousas.
What are people saying about the fires?
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins released a video Sunday urging anyone involved in these fires to turn themselves in to law enforcement.
“If you participated in this, you have succumbed to evil,” he said, wearing a cowboy hat and standing in front of the rubble at St. Mary Baptist Church. “Powers of principality are controlling your life.”
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