The FBI is investigating a string of “suspicious” fires after three historically black churches were burned in less than two weeks in a rural Louisiana parish.
“There is clearly something happening in this community,” Louisiana Fire Marshal H. Butch Browning said in a statement Thursday. “That is why it is imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.
The fires at the three historically black Baptist churches in St. Landry Parish occurred on March 26, Tuesday and Thursday officials said. The parish is located near Baton Rouge.
A fourth blaze, a small fire officials say was “intentionally set,” was reported on March 31 at a black church three hours north in Caddo Parish.
“But just as we haven’t connected the three in St. Landry, we haven’t connected the one in Caddo,” Ashley Rodrigue, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal, said Friday.
All of the churches are vacant when the flames began and no one was injured.
The FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are involved in the investigation, Jeff Nowakowski, a spokesman for the ATF’s New Orleans field division, told The New York Times.
“We’re gonna solve this. For the people responsible, the right thing to do would be come ask for redemption and come forward and let us help you through this process, don’t make us hunt you down, because we will,” said Browning.
Each of the churches were more than 100 years old, the pastors said.
Rev. Harry Richard of Greater Union Baptist Church told The Acadiana Advocate that he didn’t want parishioners to panic.
“I don’t know who’s doing it or why they’re doing it, but I don’t want to be the one to inject race into it,” he said.
St. Landry Parish is a rural area that has a population that is 56 percent white and 41 percent black, according to the Times.
Black churches have been the targets of racist attacks since the 1950s, the Times noted, including arson and bombing attacks.