Harkening back to darker days, authorities believe a common culprit may have resorted to a tried and true intimidation tactic. Federal authorities are lending a hand after a pattern of destruction has emerged.
According to the New York Times, one Louisiana parish has seen three historically black churches burned in less than two weeks.
The fires occurred on March 26 and March 31. On April 4, a small fourth fire that officials claim was intentionally set was reported at another black church three hours away.
St. Landry Parish is 56 percent white and 41 percent black. According to a local reverend whose church was all but destroyed, relations were generally good.
Reverend Gerald Toussaint, truck driver and pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, La., was driving to work around 4:45 a.m. on Thursday when his wife called to say that their church was on fire.
She had seen the news on social media. Founded in the 19th century, it has been reduced to a brick wall and a front corridor.
“I’m trying to find out who did it, why they did it, did it have anything to do with me,” said Toussaint. “I don’t know none of this.”
According to Toussaint, St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre and Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas had also been set ablaze.
In a statement, State Fire Marshal William H. Browning said “there is clearly something happening in this community,” adding that it “is imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.”
“We can’t let this setback stop us from doing what God initially called us to do,” said St. Mary’s Baptist pastor Kyle Sylvester. His church was the first that was burned, according to CBS News.
Local officials are still investigating the fires, and neglected to mention any suspects or motive. Jeff Nowakowski, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ New Orleans field division, said the FBI and ATF are also involved in the search.
“There certainly is a commonality,” Browning said, “ and whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know,” he added at a news conference Thursday.
“We’re doing everything we can, collectively, to solve this crime,” he said.