Federal investigators have released a statement saying that there is no evidence of a hate crime in the series of fires set on seven St. Louis and Jennings, MO churches in 2015.
“There appears to be no indication of a hate crime or sign… any one particular Christian denomination or ethnic group was being targeted,” said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
This comes after a local Black man was charged with second-degree arson for two of the churches that have been set on fire.
David Lopez Jackson, a 35-year-old native of St. Louis, is now under a $75,000 cash-only bond. He was directly charged for the fires at Ebenezer Lutheran Church and New Life Missionary Baptist Church; both fires occurred in October. Jackson is a suspect in the other five fires as well.
The investigation is still ongoing, and there are likely to be more changes that will be brought up. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said that his team is still trying to uncover the motive behind the fires. The police chief notes that all of the churches’ front doors were set ablaze in the attacks and gasoline was being used to accelerate the fires. Jackson became a prime suspect in the case when surveillance footage showed his car parked outside of New Life Mission. Inside, investigators found a gas canister and a thermos that smelled like gasoline.
Despite the diversity of the churches in the case, it is odd that federal investigators are downplaying the possibility that race or religion had anything to do with the reasoning behind the attacks. Various Christian denominations including Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Church of Christ and non-denominational were damaged by the arson. Furthermore, five of the congregations are mostly Black; another is predominantly White and another is racially mixed.
No one was hurt in any of the church attacks as most were done at night when they were empty. One exception is the Catholic Church, as it was set on fire during the day when a priest was inside. New Life Missionary Baptist Church was so badly damaged that it may have to be rebuilt or relocate all together.
Locals are clinging to the federal investigators’ statement as a sign of hope. St. Louis and Jennings have infamously suffered from unrest within the past year, given the racial tension and animosity that has only intensified with Michael Brown’s death.
“I believe the St Louis community will have a sigh of relief,” Rev Rodrick Burton of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church said. His church was set ablaze on Oct. 10. “Given our history of racial division, it will be a great relief that it is not motivated by prejudice.”
“There was a fear in a lot of people, so you’re certainly relieved,” Msgr Robert J Gettinger of St Augustine Catholic Church said. His church, a mostly Black congregation serving about 300 families, was set on fire on October 14. “Hopefully he’ll get some kind of help.”