The Latest: Mississippi fire chief: church blaze was arson

AP News
Posted: Nov 02, 2016 6:23 PM
The Latest: Mississippi fire chief: church blaze was arson

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The Latest on the fire that damaged a black church in Mississippi (all times local):

5:14 p.m.

A Mississippi fire chief says arson heavily damaged an African-American church where the phrase "Vote Trump" was spray-painted, and there's an $11,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever set it.

Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. says in a phone interview that the reward was announced Wednesday afternoon outside Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, which he estimates was "80 percent destroyed."

The church's red brick walls still stand, but pulpit and pews were burned black.

Brown says the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the state Fire Marshal's Office are each offering $5,000, and Washington County Crimestoppers is offering $1,000.

He says he met with local, state and federal investigators, who agree that the fire early Tuesday was intentionally set.


4:40 p.m.

Mississippi's top elections official is cautioning people about jumping to conclusions about the reason for a fire at a black church tagged with the words "Vote Trump."

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann tells WDAM-TV ( that the culprits should be prosecuted "to the fullest extent of the law."

Hosemann says he's been in touch with authorities about the fire and any effect it may have on the election.

But he cautioned people should not assume the church was vandalized for political reasons, saying initial reports suggest "this is not of a political nature."

The fire caused major damage to a Baptist church in Greenville.

The mayor says he considers it a hate crime, and the FBI says it's begun a civil rights investigation.


2 p.m.

An FBI spokesman says the agency has begun a civil rights investigation of a fire that heavily damaged a black church which was tagged "Vote Trump" in silver spray paint.

Asked whether it's being investigated as a hate crime, Brett Carr wrote in an email that it's too early to determine what type of crime it could be.

Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons told a news conference Wednesday that he considers it a hate crime.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican who has been campaigning for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, issued a statement saying anyone who burns a place of worship will answer to God and should also answer to "man's law." He says he expects whoever did it to be arrested.

Greenville is a city of about 32,000 on the Mississippi River in central Mississippi. About 78 percent of the residents are African-American.


11:40 a.m.

The mayor of a small Mississippi town is describing a fire at a black church that was also spray-painted with a "Vote Trump" message as a "hateful and cowardly act."

The fire Tuesday night heavily damaged the Hopewell M.B. Church in Greenville, Mississippi.

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Mayor Errick Simmons told a news conference Wednesday that local officials consider the fire a hate crime because of the political message he believes was intended to interfere with worship and intimidate voters.

But neither Simmons nor Fire Chief Ruben Brown has labeled the fire a case of arson, although Brown has said arson investigators are at the scene. Brown says the fire caused heavy damage to the sanctuary and water and heat damage to the kitchen and pastor's study.

Pastor Carilyn Hudson says the 111-year-old church congregation will rebuild on the same site.


10:16 a.m.

Authorities say a fire has partially damaged a black church in Mississippi, and television images show "Vote Trump" spray-painted on an outside wall.

Fire Chief Ruben Brown tells The Associated Press that firefighters found flames and smoke pouring from the sanctuary of the Hopewell M.B. Church just after 9 p.m. Tuesday.

He says the sanctuary sustained heavy damage, while the kitchen and pastor's office received water and smoke damage. He says investigators don't know yet if it is a case of arson.

Brown says there was also a political message spray-painted on the side of the church, but would not say what the message said.

"Vote Trump" is clearly visible in images of the church broadcast on television sites.


The 10:40 a.m. item has been corrected to show the pastor's first name is spelled Carilyn, rather than Caroline.