Fires have burned three historically black churches over the last 10 days in a single south Louisiana Parish, prompting authorities to call into question whether "suspicious" activity is behind the damage, the New York Times reports.
"There is clearly something happening in this community," State Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a statement. "That is why it is imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is."
The three fires took place on March 26, April 2, and April 4 at the St. Landry Parish 30 miles north of Lafayette, LA. While standing alongside the remains of the Greater Union Baptist Church, Pastor Harry Richard explained that these events haven't broken his spirit. "I'm very concerned but I'm very optimistic because of our faith in God and, no matter what happens, I feel like this is his plan," he explained. "He's going to bring me through this."
A fourth fire reportedly ignited in a black church in the Caddo Parish, located three hours north of Lafayette, which authorities explained was "intentionally set." However, police have yet to connect the four events to one another, or determine whether racism was a motivating factor.
"But just as we haven’t connected the three in St. Landry, we haven’t connected the one in Caddo," Ashley Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal explained. "The three fires in St. Landry Parish contain suspicious elements, but we have not yet classified them."
Governor John Bel Edwards extended his support to the individuals who attended these churches amid the investigations. "Our churches are sacred, central parts of our communities and everyone should feel safe in their place of worship," he said. "We do not know the cause of these fires in St. Landry and Caddo parishes, but my heart goes out to each of the congregations and all of those who call these churches home."
The FBI is currently assisting in the investigation, alongside the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.