VALE, NC (WBTV) - Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid says investigators are still trying to gather evidence and talk with people about a fire and hate graffiti at a local church.
Officials confirmed that investigators believe it was arson and that a flammable liquid was involved.
Providence Baptist Church sustained heavy flame damage in a basement room and heavy smoke damage to the remaining basement classrooms with smoke damage extending to the sanctuary above.
Officials have not released an estimate on total damage to the church.
In addition to the fire, graffiti was spray painted on the sides of two buildings and on a sidewalk. Two of them read "Anti-gay Hate Group" and a third spraying had just the words "hate group."
Investigators have not conclusively linked the fire with the graffiti. Sheriff Reid says there is no hard evidence of that yet, except for the timing. They also have not been able to establish whether what happened was a hate crime.
No suspects have been identified yet and investigators are still hoping to receive information from the public.
The FBI and ATF are assisting in the investigation.
Long time church member Gary Whitener says he is praying for whoever was responsible.
"Praying that God will rattle their bones till they have to come forward and confess to God," Whitener says.