Arson suspected at historic Onancock church

| April 7, 2010

ONANCOCK — The historic Metropolitan United Methodist Church at 21445 Bayside Road may have been saved by the quick response of some young people who happened to be driving by late Easter Sunday when they saw the wooden front doors of the church ablaze.

They quickly stopped their car and began trying to put out the fire while at the same time calling longtime church member Jesse Poulson. Poulson rushed to the church and also called police and Metropolitan's minister, the Rev. Mina Sumpter, who arrived moments later.

Poulson got the phone call about 10 p.m.

Officers from the Accomack County Sheriff's Office and the Onancock Police Department responded to the scene.

Poulson credited one young woman in particular with helping save the church because she remembered her grandmother, who lives nearby, had a fire extinguisher in her house. "She ran and got it. By the time I got there, the fire was out," Poulson said.

The historically African-American church, which dates to 1870, has about 150 members. The congregation had celebrated Easter services earlier that day.

Poulson is stymied as to why someone would want to set the church on fire, but speculated because of the fire's location that the person wanted it to be discovered rather than to actually burn the church down.

The building has three other entrances which are less apparent to passersby than the one where the fire was started. "They wanted it to be seen," he said, adding, "We've never had anything comparable to this in my memory, and I'm 67."

Damage was limited to the front door and items found at the scene indicate the fire was likely intentionally set.

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Category: Church Security