ATF probes church burglaries

| March 18, 2010

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has joined local authorities in investigating a rash of church burglaries, attempted arson and one church that burned over the weekend.

The churches include five in Henderson County and one in Chester County within a six- to eight-mile radius that were targeted late Saturday evening and early Sunday morning, according to authorities.

The New Beech Grove Baptist Church on McCaney Mill Road burned early Sunday morning. The Tennessee Bomb and Fire Arson Unit is investigating the fire but has not released information on the cause of the fire.

The Henderson County Fire Department responded to the fire and is assisting in the investigation.

Three other churches in Henderson County were burglarized and vandalized, Henderson Sheriff Brian Duke said Wednesday.

It appeared attempts were made to set fires in two of the burglarized churches, Duke said. Small items such as electronics were taken from the three churches.

From the evidence, a fourth church was targeted in an unsuccessful break-in, Duke said.

Those churches were the House of Worship Baptist Church on Poplar Springs Bargerton Road, Juno Church of Christ on U.S. 412, Chapel Hill Baptist Church on Tenn. 200 and Luray Missionary Baptist Church on Luray Road.

Chester County Chief Deputy Jason Crouse said the Mifflin Baptist Church was broken into when someone tried to kick in the front door and then pushed in an air conditioner unit in a window.

A basket was then set on top of a stove inside the church, and the stove was turned on, Crouse said.

"Fortunately, it burned itself out," Crouse said. He said church officials did not report anything stolen in that incident.

Duke said he requested ATF assistance to bring in additional resources to solve the break-ins and fire.

At this point there is no evidence that the incidents were hate crimes, Duke said.

"We are looking at every possibility, and anything is on the table," Duke said.

ATF spokesman Eric Kehn confirmed that agents were involved in the investigation but said it was too early to comment on the case.

The Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 granted federal prosecutors greater power in pursuing burnings and desecrations at houses of worship, according to the ATF Web site.

Anyone with information about the incidents should contact the Henderson County Sheriff's Department at (731) 968-7777.

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Category: Church Security

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