Thursday, November 03, 2016

Police Interview ‘Person of Interest’ in Possible Arson at Black Church in Mississippi
Wall Street Journal
Nov. 2, 2016 7:51 p.m. ET

GREENVILLE, Miss.—Police said they were interviewing a “person of interest” Wednesday evening in connection with a fire that heavily damaged an 111-year-old African-American church on which someone spray-painted “Vote Trump.”

Police Chief Delando Wilson, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, said the person hasn’t been charged with any crime. Chief Wilson declined to describe the person’s race or gender but said he doesn’t believe anyone else was involved in the incident Tuesday evening.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether civil-rights crimes were committed, said Brett Carr, an FBI spokesman in Jackson, Miss.

Donald Trump’s campaign didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Firefighters found heavy flames and smoke coming from the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church after 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, said Fire Chief Ruben Brown.

No injuries were reported. Chief Brown said the fire has been ruled an act of arson, and an $11,000 reward has been offered for information leading to a conviction in the case.

“The sanctuary is pretty much charred, destroyed on the inside,” he said. But he added, “I don’t think it’s to the point where it would have to be demolished.” He said the rear of the church, which houses a pastor’s study, also sustained heat and smoke damage.

Church officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene Wednesday, along with representatives of the FBI and state and local law-enforcement agencies.

“Authorities are investigating and we expect a suspect will be identified and brought to justice,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican and Trump supporter, said in a statement. “Anyone who burns a place of worship will answer to almighty God for this crime against people of faith. But they should also answer to man’s law.”

Bobby Moak, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, decried the fire and graffiti. “There are no coincidences in politics, and we’ve got a burnt-out church with political messaging on the side,” he said.

When asked if he thought a supporter of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump committed arson at the church, Mr. Moak said, “I’m going to let local law enforcement and the local FBI office do their job.”

Mississippi Republican Party officials declined to comment but said they might release a statement later.

Greenville, with a population of about 32,000, sits in the Mississippi Delta right near the Mississippi River. It is about 78% black and about 20% white, according to the census.

In 2012, the state voted overwhelmingly for Republican Mitt Romney, but President Barack Obama carried Washington County, where Greenville is located.

Last month, the Republican headquarters in Orange County, N.C., was damaged when a bottle containing flammable material was thrown through the front window, according to officials with the town of Hillsborough.

Graffiti included a swastika and the words “Nazi Republicans leave town or else.” The fire damaged furniture and the structure’s interior, though no one was hurt, officials said.

The Hillsborough Police Department said it is still investigating the incident, with help from federal law-enforcement agencies.

Write to Cameron McWhirter at and Scott Calvert at

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