North Carolina church fire to be investigated as possible hate crime

The Charlotte Fire Department is investigating a fire at a predominately black church as an act of arson.

Davie Hinshaw/The Charlotte Observer/AP
The charred remains of the back left wing of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. Investigators with the Charlotte Fire Department say a fire at the predominantly black church is a case of arson. Investigators are not sure if the fire was racially motivated.

A fire broke out early Thursday at a predominantly black church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Charlotte Fire Department ruled it arson and are investigating whether the blaze, which caused $250,000 in damage, was motivated by hate.

"We completed our work on the scene and determined this was intentionally set," Charlotte Fire Department Senior Fire Investigator David Williams said.

While the threat of copycat crimes are on the minds of local law enforcement and faith communities across the country, the fire at the Briar Creek Baptist Church is the first such crime of its kind reported since a gunman entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., and shot and killed nine black congregants just over a week ago.

Authorities in Charlotte are still looking for a suspect. The blaze, which firefighters brought under control after about an hour, caused no damage to the sanctuary, so services for about 100 church members will resume as usual. The brunt of the destruction occurred in a space used for youth activities – 30 children woke up Thursday morning with no place to attend summer camp.

“We have already forgiven them. And we are hoping that the investigation will take its place and do what’s necessary,” Pastor Mannix Kinsey said to WCNC-TV.

“Buildings can be repaired, they can be built over, but the hearts of individuals, this is the opportunity for God to touch the hearts of individuals,” Mr. Kinsey said.

Hate crime statistics in the United States are tracked by three different entities, FiveThirtyEight reports. But laws vary by state, so it is difficult to compare data. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Federal Bureau of Investigation reported similar hate crime incidences between 2003 and 2015, a little over one percent of hate crimes were reported in South Carolina. The national rate is 13.4 hate incidents per million people annually.  

The Justice Department is investigating the massacre in Charleston to determine if it was a hate crime. The Charleston police chief has publicly called it one. If the Department concurs, Dylann Roof would be tried in Federal court, and could also be tried on nine counts of murder in the state of South Carolina, which is one of five states with no law against hate crimes.

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