Local News

Clayton church fire deemed suspicious

Posted May 6, 2009 7:04 a.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2009 6:54 p.m. EDT

— Authorities said they believe a fire early Wednesday at a Clayton church might have been set.

Firefighters battled a blaze that started at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, at 5217 Barber Mill Road, shortly before 5:30 a.m. By the time firefighters arrived, flames were shooting through the roof, and smoke poured from the building, authorities said.

Firefighters found that a door to the church had been forced open, and Clayton police were called in to investigate.

Police found that the church's community center, which houses a gymnasium, a kitchen and some classrooms, also had been broken into. A fire that had been set there burned itself out and caused little damage, police said.

The fire left two gaping holes in the church's roof and caused extensive damage to the sanctuary. Still, members of the congregation said they would move forward together.

"The building is not our church. Our family is our church," Tanya Dale said.

Mt. Calvary has had a congregation in Clayton for almost a century, although the building that burned was built in the 1980s, said Rev. Darrell Sauls, pastor of the church. About 100 people are members of the church.

"(We're) receiving strength from each other, leaning on each other. Those blessings will carry us through the hurt (and) the grief of the situation," Sauls said, adding that he is searching for a temporary space to hold Sunday services.

"Being angry isn't going to bring the building back and isn't going to help them find the individual," he said.

Clayton police and fire authorities and agents from the State Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives are investigating the fires. They had no suspects as of Wednesday afternoon.

"It's sad that there's so much meanness in the world and that someone would do this to a church," Dale said.

Anyone who might have seen suspicious vehicles or people near the church or along Barber Mill Road early Wednesday is asked to call the Clayton Police Department at 919-553-4611 or Clayton Crime Stoppers at 919-359-8479.