Three historically black churches were destroyed by fire in 10 days in a single south Louisiana parish, The New York Times reports.
Officials say they found “suspicious elements” in each fire and have not ruled out arson or that the fires may be related.
The fires took place on March 26, April 2, and April 4. A fourth fire that officials said was “intentionally” set at a predominantly black church in Caddo Parish was also reported Sunday but officials said it was a small blaze.
“There is clearly something happening in this community,” State Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a statement on Thursday. “That is why it is imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.”
"We believe these three fires are suspicious," Browning said, according to CNN. "We are falling short of talking about what caused the fires, falling short of saying they are related, however cognizant that there is a problem and no coincidence that there are three fires."
Officials are still investigating the fires and have not commented on any motive or suspects.
“There certainly is a commonality, and whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know,” Browning told reporters.
The FBI and ATF have joined the investigation, The Times reported.
Police ramp up security at churches:
St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said that police were doing “everything” to protect churches in the area.
"You got to have a certain degree of anger because there's no reason for this," Deacon Earnest Hines of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas told WBRZ. "You know the history of our country. During the civil rights struggle, they had all these incidents that would happen and sometimes that happens again.”
Greater Union Baptist Church Pastor Harry Richard told KATC that his church held more than a century of history.
"Our parents, grandparents went here," he said. "Buried in the back there, some of them are."
"God's grace is undeserved merit. I know we don't deserve this, but he gives us something better than this, and that's undeserved grace," he told KLFY.
Black churches under attack:
“Since the 1950s, black churches across the South have been the targets of numerous racist attacks, from arson to bombing to armed assault. In 2015, a white supremacist shot and killed nine people at a Bible study at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C,” The New York Times reported. “In 2006, a string of arsons at Alabama churches, some predominantly white, some predominantly black, proved to be the work of three college students that officials characterized as a ‘joke’ that had spun out of control.”