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Investigators Seek Clues in Debris at Burned Church

Posted April 23, 2007

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— Investigators sifted through ashes and turned over charred debris at a Smithfield church Monday as they tried to determine what sparked a fire that police found when they went to investigate a break-in Sunday morning at a nearby business.

A 17-year-old has been charged with the break-in at Whitley Memorial United Methodist Church, but police do not know if it is connected with the fire.

Smithfield police charged Alvin Parrish, 17, with breaking into a convenience store and stealing three cases of beer, then breaking into the church.

Worshipers arrived Sunday morning to find firefighters and smoke. Instead of prayers and hymns, there were tears and hugs outside the structure.

Officials believe the church's main sanctuary is damaged beyond repair. Church members said they hope they can hold service in a smaller sanctuary on the property.

Monday, member Jesse Hatcher was among those who came to see what could be salvaged.

"It's a terrible mess. That's the best way to describe it. Everything is charcoaled. It's black inside," Hatcher said.

He has a lot of memories connected with the church.

"I was here when the sanctuary was built 40 years ago, 41 years ago," Hatcher recalled.

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

Authorities later took Parrish into custody. Police said three other people are wanted for questioning in relation to the church break-in and subsequent fire.

Hatcher said he thinks the fire must have been set, but why that would happen baffles him.

"I can't comprehend how a person could do something of that nature," Hatcher said.


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  • ckat Apr 24, 2007

    I personally know Lee Parrish and I believe that everyone who is rushing to say that Lee did this needs to stop and think. This is a very troubled CHILD, yes I said child. Being 17 does not make you a MAN. Coming from an alcoholic father, this child needs REAL guidance, and help for his addiction instead of ridicule and jail. Lee DID NOT burn this church and he is very emotionally unstable thinking that the world beleives that he would do such a thing. I pray for the people of the church for their loss, and I pray for Lee. Lee will accept the shame for what he did to the store but he is begging for people to know that he would not do this to a church. It is a miracle that the three people that did this and BEAT LEE because he was drunk didn't knock him unconcious and leave him in the fire to die. People need to know the WHOLE story.

  • 2alegal Apr 23, 2007

    It is rumored that Parrish and several others were in the church fighting and somehow the fire got started. I know justice will be served once judgment comes. Praying for the worshippers at this church. They didn't deserve this.

  • trytoberational Apr 23, 2007

    hope if he knows who they are he's smart enough to turn them in also if in fact they did start the fire for their sakes I hope they didn't