A fire that engulfed a Baptist church with a primarily African-American congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Wednesday was arson and could be a hate crime, fire officials said.
“We're looking at every angle, and that [the arson was motivated by hate] is one of the angles we are examining at this point,” Charlotte Fire Department Senior Investigator David Williams told NBC affiliate WCNC. “If we find information that leads us to go down that path, we will pursue it.”
Damage to Briar Creek Road Baptist Church is estimated at more than $250,000, according to The Associated Press.
The sanctuary escaped damage, and services will resume Sunday, according to WCNC. But the part of the church reserved for a summer camp suffered severe impairment, according to the station.
A statement from the fire department said it took about an hour Wednesday morning to get the fire at the church under control. Firefighters received word of the fire and arrived about 1 a.m.
The arson came a week after a racially motivated mass shooting at an African-American church in South Carolina, where a white shooter gunned down nine black worshippers.
Sam Triantis, who lives across the street from the Charlotte church, told WCNC he doesn’t believe a hate crime is likely.
“Maybe some kids broke in, maybe a homeless person,” he told the station.
“There’s no hate here,’ Triantis told WBTV in a separate interview. “There’s 200 nationalities in this neighborhood, and we get along just fine.”
The church pastor, Mannix Kinsey, said he has already forgiven the arsonist, according to local television station WBTV, and that the congregation is already looking to the future.
“A life was not lost. The buildings can be repaired. They can be built over. I can speak for this church and say that we’ve already forgiven [the culprit]. We want to move forward,” he told WBTV.
Al Jazeera and wire services