Lumberton PD Chief: Teen confesses to church arson

| January 21, 2010

Lumberton Police Chief Danny Sullins tells KFDM News a 19 year old from Lumberton has confessed to setting a fire that heavily damaged Fletcher Emanuel Church Alive in December, and the chief says the suspect admitted setting the fire to erase evidence he burglarized the church and took money.

The fire December 9 heavily damaged the church offices and the sanctuary. No one was hurt.

Sullins says the suspect is behind bars in Calcasieu Parish on unrelated charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and drug possession. The 19 year old is accused of stealing a vehicle in the Lumberton area, outside the city limits.

Sullins says his department has arrest warrants, accusing the suspect of burglary of a building and arson. Arson of a religious building is a 1st Degree Felony. If convicted, the teen could face a punishment ranging from 5-99 years or life in prison.

The arson warrant accused the teen of setting fire to the church offices. The burglary warrant accuses him of breaking into the fellowship hall to steal money. Sullins says the teen is accused of taking a small amount of money from the church safe.

Sullins says he's familiar with the teen and has dealt with him before in the criminal justice system.

A news conference is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at the Lumberton Fire Station to release more details about the break in the investigation.

The congregation, now called Southpoint Church, has moved to the site once occupied by East Texas Texas Christian School in Lumberton. The pastor said it was a moved planned before the church arson.

Stay with KFDM News for the latest on the story.

December 11 story –

LUMBERTON – KFDM News has learned federal investigators and the Lumberton Fire Marshal have ruled arson in a fire that heavily damaged Fletcher Emanuel Church Alive, and the pastor told KFDM it's "totally shocking" to learn Wednesday's fire was deliberately set and may have been done to cover up a burglary.

Lumberton Police Chief Danny Sullins told KFDM News the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Lumberton Fire Marshal Jim Philp issued the ruling Friday afternoon. Investigators have turned the building back over to the church.

According to Sullins, it appears a burglary occurred in the office area of the church where investigators say Wednesday morning's fire was concentrated.

The fire destroyed a number of records in the church offices above the sanctuary, caused a floor to collapse, and resulted in smoke damage to the sanctuary and other parts of the building.

No one was hurt.

A maintenance worker driving up to the church, 395 Fletcher Road in Lumberton, reported the fire shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday. Chief Sullins told KFDM News when he arrived he saw smoke coming from the office area above the sanctuary.

The congregation was founded in 1910. The building that burned was constructed in 1980.

"First of all, the fire was just totally shocking to me," Pastor Mark Wilding told KFDM news Friday night. "I thought it was an electrical problem or something like that. But to find out somebody broke in, it's really just a total shock is all I can say on that. I do hope they get whoever did it because our building, I would say there's a lot of damage."

Wilding said investigators asked if he knew anyone who'd have reason to set the fire and he told them 'no.'

"We've not had any threats," Wilding told KFDM. "We've had a few cases of young kids, teenagers, since we have a large youth ministry and bus in some children from troubled backgrounds. They see our video games, they might break in and take one of those, but that happened only once."

The fire has prompted the pastor to move Sunday's services to the site of the old East Texas Christian School on Highway 69. Breakfast begins Sunday at 9 a.m. and services begin at 10 a.m.

Wilding told KFDM the move will be permanent and was planned to take place in about six months. The arson will speed up the process.

"We already moved to our other property," (the site of the old East Texas Christian School) said Wilding. "We were planning on going there anyway. There's a church in this area that was looking at our building but nothing was official. We were going to get a lot of things done and take some time. Now we're forced down there. We have no intentions now, we don't see the possibility of returning to that building. Our new name will be SouthPoint Church."

Wilding says the name is appropriate because the church will be located where Highways 69 and 96 converge at the southern edge of Lumberton.

The pastor says despite what happened to the building on Fletcher Road, he isn't mad at the arsonist or arsonists.

"If I could speak to those who did this, I'm not even really angry," Wilding told KFDM News. "It's sad that someone would do something like that, and upsetting, but apparently anyone who would do that has some problems. If someone had been hurt or it had been our only building, it would have been devastating. I do hope they catch the person but I don't hold any bitterness."

A statement on the church's website reads "Please pray for our congregation at this difficult time. Our desire is to be in the center of God's will and serve the Lumberton community."

Another posting reads "Behold, I make all things new. " Revelation 21:5."

The arson and burglary remain under investigation by the Lumberton Police Department, Lumberton Fire Department and ATF.

If you have information about the church arson, call Lumberton Police at 755-3400, EasTex Crime Stoppers at 724-TIPS or the ATF.

Authorities ruled arson in other Hardin County church Fire. A fire destroyed First Baptist Church in Kountze in April, 2008. No arrests have been made in that arson investigation. The sanctuary was rebuilt and the church held its first service there on November 22.

Authorities haven't said there is any link between the two church fires.

Stay with KFDM News for the latest on the investigation.

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Category: Church Security