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Man Charged With Breaking Into Church Before Fire

Posted April 22, 2007
Updated April 23, 2007

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— A man was arrested Sunday after he allegedly broke into a church that was later found ablaze.

Smithfield police said Alvin Parrish, 17 broke into a convenience store and then broke into Whitley Memorial United Methodist Church early Sunday morning.

When police officers showed up to investigate the store break-in, they saw smoke at the church, which is located on the same block as the store. Within minutes, fire crews arrived at the church and saw someone running from the scene, police said.

After a foot chase, Parrish was taken into custody. He is accused of stealing three cases of beer from the store.

While the events after that remain unclear to investigators, police officials said they believe he broke into the church at some point. Three other people are wanted for questioning in relation to the church break-in and subsequent fire.

Parrish has not been charged with the fire that broke out in an office area of the church about the same time as the alleged burglary. Detectives told WRAL they are waiting on the results of a fire marshal's report before they determine whether the fire was deliberately set.

The fire did significant damage to the sanctuary adjoining the office, according to witnesses.

Worshipers were in tears as they arrived for services and found fire units on the scene.

“It's devastating,” said member Fara Thomas. “I grew up in this church. This is home. The history of all of our families is in that church.”

Mutual aid from neighboring departments supplemented Smithfield units. The fire was reported about 8:45 a.m.

Crews said the fire likely started in the hallway or in the pastor's office. Electrical problems have been ruled out as a cause of the blaze.

While the main sanctuary is a total loss, the church's original sanctuary just behind it is still intact. Church members said they'll probably have church there until they can rebuild.

“No, it's not gone,” member Pat Sasser said. “It'll never be gone. In our hearts it'll always be here."


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  • 2alegal Apr 23, 2007

    The church is a disaster. The young people and those responsible should be punished dearly. This is a church with quite a few older attendees. A fundraiser should be held. I would gladly volunteer to help.

  • cheekygreek Apr 23, 2007

    Feelinlucky:Apparently you did go back and read.Now quit being the "grammar god".

  • ninenine99 Apr 23, 2007

    packandcanesfan: respect is something that is earned. A building is just a pile of wood and brick, and cannot earn respect. Besides, insurance will pay for it, and they'll get a new building. Big friggin' deal. And no, I'm not askeered of Jeebus any more than I'm afraid of Harry Potter.

  • mindyourown Apr 23, 2007

    CheekyGeek, I did read but your ways of explanation are simply confusing. Did you even go to high school? You said 'if their is a hell..', your wording is even incorrect in this one, it should have been 'If THERE is a hell..', so right back at ya! What does my attitude have to do with getting lucky? I am lucky trust me! So, does the word punk not settle right with you? Why does it upset you so much? Have you been drinking again? I remember my first beer too. Have a nice pleasant day! ;)

  • packandcanesfan Apr 23, 2007

    ninenine_99 -at- yahoo -dot- com:

    Respect is what I am talking about. Respect for a house of worship and for the lost. I would be terrified to be making a remark like that about Jesus... but hey, that is me.

  • ninenine99 Apr 23, 2007

    packandcanesfan: oooh... yeah they're asking for it. The boogeyman is gonna get this guy! Spooky! Or maybe, Zombie Jesus will get him!

  • just my2cents Apr 23, 2007

    I agree with you Rev, ths kid is lost, and needs somebody to show him some guidance. The boy is only 17, and already on the road of destruction. I pray something comes out of his cry for help.

  • spiritwarriorwoman Apr 23, 2007

    The members of this church forgiving and ministering to this child would do more to bring him into righteousness than almost anything else anyone could do or say.

    Thank God a church is not a building, but is a gathering of likeminded believers come together for the same purpose, to love and spread The Word of God.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • danhoggard Apr 23, 2007

    Hey Strollin Bones, Constitution says "Freedom OF religion" Not freedom FROM religion.Read it again if you can. Constituion wasn't meant to keep people from having religion, just to let them worship WHO and HOW they liked. It mostly stemmed from the mostly protestant settlers trying to break from mostly Catholic Europe.

  • WhatEver Apr 23, 2007

    Boy, he sure does look stoned.