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Church Fire Sparks Arson Investigation

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WILSON, N.C. — A weekend church fire is under investigation as a possible case of arson, authorities said Tuesday.

Firefighters put out a blaze at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, at 106 Reid St., early Saturday, and investigators suspected arson in the case, authorities said.

The flames stopped short of the 100-year-old sanctuary, but the church's gathering hall sustained extensive smoke and water damage.

"I ponder why someone would go to such lengths," said the Rev. Phillip Byrum, the pastor of St. Mark's. "Most of the things are destroyed."

The heat from the fire melted a stained-glass window the congregation had salvaged from a 1920s-era church, Byrum said.

The church is unique in that it is home to two different congregations -- one primarily African-American and the other Hispanic. Byrum said English and Spanish services are held each Sunday and are sometimes combined.

"I would not rule that out," he said when asked if the church's diverse congregation made it a target for arson. "But I think its more of a random kind of thing."

The congregations plan to repair the sanctuary and rebuild the rest of the church, he said.

"There is sadness and some anger, but there is also a lot of hope," he said.

Detectives from the Wilson Police Department and agents from the State Bureau of Investigation and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the case.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 252-243-2255.


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