Governor views church fire sites

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Demopolis Times

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, along with a host of state and local leaders, made a grim tour through west Alabama Wednesday to get a first-handlook at the extensive damage to four Black Belt churches set ablaze early Tuesday morning.

Riley began his tour at Dancy Baptist Church in Pickens County, Galilee Baptist Church in Sumter County, Spring Valley Baptist Church in Sumter County and ended his day at Morningstar Baptist Church in Boligee.

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As the sun set on the crowd gathered outside the charred remains of Morningstar Missionary Baptist, Riley vowed the state government would do everything in its power to solve the crime and get the churches back on their feet.

“The state of Alabama is going to do whatever we can to get them back in church,” Riley said. “We are going to help them and assist them in trying to find another place to worship.”

After touring the four churches, Riley said it was clear all fires were the work of the same party.

“The similarities on all these cases is remarkable,” Riley said. “But when you look at the kind of devastation they had here it gets back to what I have been saying for the last few days. It is just hard to imagine anyone would come in and do this.”

Riley also affirmed solving the fires and bringing closure to the case were the state’s top priority.

“We have every available agency working on this,” Riley said. “After seeing what happened in Bibb County, I thought this was an isolate incident.”

While the fires appear to be linked to Friday’s incidents in Bibb County, ATF Regional Director Jim Cavanaugh said he did not believe they were related to church fires in Greene County from 1997.

The 1997 fires remain unsolved, but Cavanaugh said he believed this case would be different.

“This is an evil and ugly business, but I don’t think they are related,” Cavanaugh said. “This is a different event, but it is a solvable crime.”

A key to solving the case was cooperation from the community, Cavanaugh said. He said they have received numerous leads and encouraged anyone with information to come forward. But, Cavanaugh discouraged anyone from taking the law into their own hands.

“We have leads from all over,” Cavanaugh said. “But, what we don’t want is vigilante justice.”

Though this is a complicated case, Cavanaugh said, simple clues could lead to arrests. He asked people to keep their eyes open for any signs.

“They could smell like smoke or their hands could be burned,” Cavanaugh

said. “They could also have missed work. Those are the types of things people need to think about.”

Investigators also plan to examine why these particular churches were chosen and how they were found.

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis also announced Wednesday he plans to visit the damaged church’s Friday afternoon. Davis said he plans to use the visits to speak with pastors and parishioners about the next steps for the impacted communities.