Arson experts have joined law enforcement officials in trying to find the cause of a fire that yesterday destroyed the famous Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina.
Two Ku Klux Klan members set fire to the church’s original structure in 1995, a year that saw 30 fires destroy black churches in Southern states. A year later, when the current church was dedicated, President Clinton called for racial unity during a visit to the town.
Early this morning investigators began sifting through the church’s smoldering remains looking for clues on how the fire which left behind only the exterior brick walls, started.
Five Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents are on the scene, working alongside the local sheriff’ s office, local and state police, the sheriff’s office and state police, and firefighters who responded to the fire.
Tom Mangan, an ATF Special Agent at the scene, said “Anytime there is a house of worship involved in a fire, ATF is automatically assigned to look into the cause.”
ATF arson specialist Nero Priester said a sniffer dog would be used as soon as embers cooled down.
With memories of the racist inspired killings of nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, just 75 miles south of Greeleyville, still fresh, conspiracy theories on the cause of the fire abound, especially as there have been six other African American churches destroyed by fire since then.
Although investigators have said nothing points to the fires being hate crimes, nor being linked, two of them may have been the result of arson.
The religious targets of the majority of recent hate crimes in southern states have been synagogues and mosques.
A National Fire Protection Association report is 2013 showed there have been more than 1,700 fires at religious building s between 2007 and 2011, with approximately 16 per cent the result of arson.