Local News

Man Charged With Breaking Into Church Before Fire

Posted April 22, 2007 9:52 a.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2007 1:00 p.m. EDT

— 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."