he Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are assisting with a state investigation after three black churches were burned down in Louisiana within days of each other.
During a news conference, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning divulged that there are “suspicious elements” in with each fire, and “we do believe that crimes have occurred.”
The fires all occurred within St. Landry Parish, with the first being at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26. Last Tuesday, April 2, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas went up in flames. On Thursday, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was similarly destroyed by fire.
“At first we thought it might have been an electrical problem, but then when the second church … burning occurred, I realized it was our sister church,” Freddie Jack, president of the the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, told CNN. “Then, two days later the third occurred. So at least [to] me, [it] made me think that we’re being targeted.”
“We don’t know why, we don’t know when, we don’t know who,” Gerald Toussaint, the pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, told local television station KATC. “We will let the authorities handle that, but we just know a higher power and a higher authority who can bring this thing to fruition.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards has asked Browning and other officials to “aggressively investigate” the fires, and used his State of the State address on Monday to decry what appears to be an orchestrated attack.
“Churches are sacred places, and no one should fear for their safety in their house of worship,” he said. “And no one should be concerned that their house of worship would be destroyed.”