Wills Point Church Fire Officially Called Arson

| February 8, 2010

While teams of local, state and federal authorities look at hundreds of leads in a string of church arsons, several vehicles seen near churches in recent weeks are being checked out to see if they could possibly be related to the fires.

Tom Crowley, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent, said investigators have determined the fire that destroyed the Russell Memorial United Methodist Church sanctuary in Wills Point last Thursday was an act of arson.

However, Crowley did not give any further details as to where or how the fire was started.

Earlier church fires were said to have been started with some type of accelerant being used.

The Wills Point blaze was the eighth church fire in East Texas since Jan. 1, but fires in December are also being looked at as being connected. Officials also believe the fire that claimed the First Baptist Church in Temple, which was ruled as arson last month, may also be connected.

The first fire ruled arson was at the Faith Church in Athens on Jan. 1. Then on Jan. 12, the Lake Athens Baptist Church and the Grace Community Church in Athens both burned.

Four days later, the Tyland Baptist Church on Loop 323 in Tyler was torched and the following night the First Church of Christ, Scientist on South Broadway Avenue in Tyler burned to the ground.

On Jan. 20, the arsonist struck again at the Prairie Creek Fellowship of Lindale on U.S. Highway 69.

Crowley said the ATF National Response Team is still in the area helping run down the leads being generated through onsite investigations and an East Texas Church Arson Task Force hotline.

“We’re following leads and are very active in the area,” he said.

Crowley added there are several vehicles which have seen near churches that are being investigated to determine if they have any connection to the fires.

The vehicles, which have been seen at all times of the day and early morning hours, have been reported as suspicious by citizens to police agencies.

“We’re looking at multiple vehicles and trying to determine how serious we should take them at this point of the investigation,” he said.

Anyone with information is urged to call the task force at 903-939-6169 or 903-939-6172 or the ATF at 1-888-ATF-FIRE. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the recent string of East Texas fires.



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Category: Church Security