Teen Charged in Church Fire

| February 20, 2010

Urinated on Bibles, pictures of Jesus and behind the church pulpit.

That’s what a 16-year-old boy told Abbeville County deputies he did at Mount Olive AME Church in the early morning hours the day after Christmas – when he tried to burn the church down using ceremonial candles and the minister’s robe, according to authorities.

The name of the white boy – who police say lives in Columbia but visits his father in Donalds on weekends – has not been released because of his age. He is being charged as an adult, facing one count of second-degree arson, three counts of second-degree burglary and three counts of malicious injury to real property.

Deputies were called to the 216 E. Main St. church Dec. 26 by a member who was coming in to clean up after Christmas service and found two church candles burning, along with a "strange” smell. Authorities found 19 areas in the church that looked like someone had tried to start a fire, including paint thinner poured around the pulpit and near the pastor’s study – where Bibles and minister robes were coated with the flammable liquid – and numerous burns that appeared to be from cigarettes.

Investigators said the boy later told them he lit the candles at about 3 a.m. – about six hours before church members arrived.

Agents from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were called to assist, and law enforcement officers urged community members to be vigilant.

On Feb. 1, officers answered a report at the church that someone had tried to enter through a window during the night, but apparently could not get inside. A large cross in front of the building had been ripped out of the ground, dragged behind the church and thrown into the woods.

"People were scared,” lifelong member Edith Benjamin recalled Friday afternoon, a day after the boy had been taken to a juvenile holding facility in Columbia in lieu of a $25,000 bond. "But the deputies would patrol extra – even come in during service sometimes.

"We just didn’t know why someone would do something terrible like that.”



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Category: Church Security

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