Friday, October 23

Shrine of St. Joseph Church : 7 St. Louis churches set on fire in 2 weeks

ST. LOUIS — A fire started at a St. Louis area church Thursday became the seventh church to be torched in a two-week period.
The front door of the Shrine of St. Joseph was set ablaze with a small amount of accelerant early Thursday morning.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said an officer spotted the fire at the Catholic church near downtown St. Louis while responding to an alarm at the church. The church is located in a relatively secluded neighborhood near downtown, Dotson said, adding it appeared the person who set the fire had scouted the area and knew they could get in and out without possibly being seen.   
Fire-damaged rectory doors at the 173-year-old Shrine of St. Joseph church that were damaged by an arsonist are shown Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, in St. Louis. The fire, set early Thursday morning, marks the seventh time in two weeks someone ignited doors outside a place of worship in St. Louis or one of its suburbs, police said. 
Authorities said an emergency responder used a fire extinguisher to stop the flames on the wooden front door. No one was injured, said St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson.
While the fire was started in a similar manner as the other church fires, this one differs in that it was set near downtown St. Louis. The other fires occurred in the northern part of the city and county in a 3-mile area. The congregation at the Shrine of St. Joseph is predominantly white, while the congregations of the other churches have been predominantly black.
Jenkerson said Thursday that the blaze at the Shrine of St. Joseph was "very similar" to the other church fires, speculating that the attacks could be motivated by a disagreement or mental illness. Fire Capt. Garon Mosby, a spokesman for the department, has said the possibility that the fires are hate crimes — for religious or racial reasons — "is part of the dynamic" of the investigation.
"We don't know at this time," Jenkerson said.
No one was inside the churches when the fires were started. The damage from the fires ranged from virtually nothing at one church to the near destruction of another.
Earlier, fire officials said that someone who might be struggling with stress in their life is attempting to send a destructive message to area congregations.
However, David Triggs, a minister at New Life Missionary Baptist Church — the fifth church to be set on fire — has a different theory.
"This is a result of division in the church," he said.
At New Life, which was burned Saturday, damage was visible from the outside of the building. It extended into the main sanctuary from the front room by the entrance.
"The arsonist poured the accelerant around the base of the door," Triggs said.
The fires began Oct. 8 when Bethel Nondenominational Church in Jennings, Mo., was set ablaze.
On Tuesday, pastors tried to recruit their neighbors to help law enforcement find the arsonist, while sending a message to the person attacking their sanctuaries.
"Every American should be concerned whether you subscribe to faith or not," said Rev. Rodrick Burton, at the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, which was burned Oct. 10.
"If you burn one, you're burning all of us," said Pastor Sammie Jones from Mount Zion Baptist Church, whose church has not been burned.
A reward of $9,000 has been offered for any information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for the fires.
The Shrine of St. Joseph is known as "Miracle Church" because the first Vatican-certified miracle west of the Mississippi River happened there in 1864. According to the church's website, the miracle stemmed from the case of a sick immigrant reportedly healed by kissing a relic of a future saint, Peter Claver.

CHURCH FIRES

• Fire 1: Oct. 8
Bethel Nondenominational Church, Jennings, Mo.
• Fire 2: Oct. 10
New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, Jennings, Mo.
• Fire 3: Oct. 14
St. Augustine Catholic Church, St. Louis
• Fire 4: Oct. 15
New Testament Church of Christ, St. Louis
 Fire 5: Oct. 17
New Life Missionary Baptist Church, St. Louis
• Fire 6: Oct. 18
Ebenezer Lutheran Church, St. Louis.
• Fire 7: Oct. 22
Shrine of St. Joseph, St. Louis

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