Something sinister is occurring in nearby south Louisiana parishes where three historically Black churches have burned down in less than two weeks and a fourth was set ablaze.
“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.”
The series of fires began at Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas and St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, which burned down on April 2 and March 26, respectively. The third St. Landry Parish church fire erupted early Thursday (April 4) at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church just south of Opelousas.
Mount Pleasant is about 10 miles south of Greater Union Baptist Church. Officials said a fourth smaller blaze was “intentionally set” on Sunday at a predominantly black church in Caddo Parish, about a three-hour drive north, The Times reported. The F.B.I. and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are now involved in the investigation.
“We haven’t connected the three in St. Landry, we haven’t connected the one in Caddo,” said Ashley Rodrigue, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal, on Friday.
Local officials said that they are still investigating the fires, and a motive is not currently known nor whether racism was a factor. They have also not noted any suspect(s).
“I’m trying to find out who did it, why they did it, did it have anything to do with me,” said Rev. Gerald Toussaint, the pastor at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
“There certainly is a commonality, and whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know,” Browning said at a news conference on Thursday.
Sheriff Bobby Guidroz of St. Landry Parish said Thursday that law enforcement will do “whatever it takes” to protect churches and churchgoers.
“We’re doing everything we can, collectively, to solve this crime,” he said.