Was church fire a hate crime? Pastor says culprit already forgiven

Published: Jun. 24, 2015 at 7:08 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2015 at 8:59 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A church fire that sent one firefighter to the hospital and injured another Wednesday morning was intentionally set, the Charlotte Fire Department says.

It didn't take long for the department to rule it arson and say that $250,000 worth of damage was done to the building.

"Pretty much the whole church was affected," Sr. Fire Investigator David Williams said. "With some degree of smoke damage. One wing of the church sustained significant fire damage."

More than 75 firefighters responded the fire at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church around 3 a.m. It took about two hours to control the fire.

One of the two firefighters who suffered heat-related injuries was taken to Carolinas Medical Center-Main in Charlotte.

The pastor of the church was called about the fire early Wednesday morning. "When I got here," Briar Creek Baptist Church pastor Mannix Kinsey said. "I was even amazed to see that the flames were so high. I am thinking Oh my goodness, this church is going to be destroyed. But thank God the damage that was done wasn't as bad as we thought it could be."

Part of the investigation will be to determine if this was a hate crime. There are about 85 people who call Briar Creek their home church and Kinsey says the church is diverse but is mainly African American.

He prays this will not be deemed a hate crime. "Just the climate," Kinsey said. "And we are still talking about this same issue and this is 2015. We all have to consider what else do we need to do to actually be able to work together."

Neighbors don't believe this is a hate crime. "There's no hate," Neighbor Sam Triantis said. "Here we have 200 nationalities in this neighborhood and we get along just fine."

Part of Briar Creek Road was closed due to the fire Wednesday morning.

Ayesha Lewis, minister at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, said summer classes were supposed to start today but have now been canceled.

The Metrolina Baptist Association is assisting the church. Officials say the church camp may be transferred to another building so the camp can continue.

Other churches are now asking what can be done to help. "Ready to serve in anyway we can," Metrolina Baptist Assoc. Exec. Director Bob Lowman, Jr. said. "Trying to encourage and pray for the pastor and leaders here at the church."

While investigators try to piece what happened, the pastor has a message for the arsonist. "Honestly I can speak for this church," the pastor said. "That we've already forgiven them and we want to move forward. And we are hoping this is an opportunity for Christ to show himself in their hearts."

Officials are asking anyone with information in the arson case to call investigators at 704-336-2441 or Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600. A reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest, officials say.

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