Griffin woman charged with church arson

| September 5, 2009

Police say a Griffin woman set fire to a church and other businesses who refused to give her money or allow her to panhandle on their property.

Connie Dale Huggins, 55, is now in the Spalding County jail, charged with first-degree arson.

She was arrested Thursday night after setting fire to a church and is a suspect in eight other fires, Griffin Police Investigator Bryan Clanton said.

Clanton said Huggins is a “serial arsonist” and additional charges are pending.

The fires started July 11 when a recycling center on Meriwether Street caught fire. Since then, firefighters responded to eight other fires, including a tool shed, portable toilet, trash cans and other outside buildings, Clanton said.

No injuries were reported.

“Fortunately none became that involved or had anyone hurt, but for every one Griffin Fire had to come and put it out,” Clanton said Friday. “It was an unnecessary burden to police and fire resources.”

For the past month, the fire marshal and investigators have set up surveillance on Meriwether Street to try to catch the arsonist.

Late Thursday, investigators spotted Huggins climb behind the bushes and into a crawl space at the Agape Restoration Family Center, a church and community center on Meriwether Street. They then smelled smoke.

The fire marshal found a small fire, which Huggins started with a cigarette lighter, under the building. He extinguished the fire while police chased Huggins to a vacant lot, where she was arrested.

Huggins told investigators she was trying to get back at all of the people who refused to allow her on their property. She was mad at the recycling center for calling police when they found her sleeping on their property, Clanton said.

“She’s in and out of halfway houses and has a drug history,” Clanton said. “These were people who asked her to leave for trespassing or panhandling.”

No one was as the church when the fire started, but the fire caused smoke damage throughout the building, said Ferhanda Whitaker, the wife of the pastor.

“We’re happy the fire marshal happened to be there and stop our church from burning down,” Whitaker said Friday while cleaning the church.

Agape, which has a congregation of about 60 people, will likely hold service Sunday at a Holiday Inn because of the damage, Whitaker said.

 

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