CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 25 (UPI) -- Investigators are trying to determine whether a deliberately set fire that destroyed a small, predominantly black church was a hate crime.
The Charlotte Fire Department said arson was the cause of the blaze early Wednesday at the Briar Creek Baptist Church, but are still looking to determine if it was an act of hate. The blaze caused more than $250,000 in damage and destroyed the main building, which held classrooms. The damaged forced the church to cancel its summer program for 28 children.
Co-pastor Rhonda Kinsey said she felt "shock" and "disbelief" when she learned of the fire. She said church leaders are turning to prayer instead of anger.
"You hear about it, but you never imagine you would have a fire at your church," she said. "When I did think about the possibilities of there being any ugliness behind this, I instantly start praying and just saying, 'God, just please have mercy.'"
Authorities are releasing few details about why they think the fire was set intentionally. Senior fire investigator David Williams said putting it out was a "monumental task," with some 75 firefighters with 14 engine trucks attacking the flames for more than an hour. Two firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion.
Charlotte Fire Department Public Information Manager Cynthia Robbins Shah-Khan told The Washington Post a hate crime is one of the possible explanations of the blaze, although not the only one.
"Anytime anybody sets any kind of structure on fire that's disturbing," she said. "But as of today we don't have any information one way or the other. The investigators are just going to be following the leads and seeing where it takes them."