As Jackson, Mississippi, voters were going to the polls on Nov. 8 to vote in the midterm elections, fires were being set at Black churches. Two churches were the targets of an arsonist.
A suspect has been arrested for setting buildings on fire early in the morning, including two churches, near Jackson State University in the capital of Mississippi, authorities announced. The suspect, identified by local media outlets as Devin McLaurin, was arrested by local sheriff’s deputies and turned over to the Jackson Police Department, according to NBC News affiliate WLBT-TV. The suspect taken into custody was a Black man.
“We believe from video surveillance and other information that we gathered that he’s responsible for multiple structure fires here in the city,” Police Chief James Davis told WLBT.
One of the fires was set on JSU’s baseball field fence.
The suspect faces a single charge of felony malicious mischief in connection with one of the two church fires.
The worst of the fires near the historically Black college had left Black church Epiphany Lutheran Church in ruins. There were no reports of injuries, ABC affiliate WAPT reported. The 85-year-old Epiphany was completely destroyed.
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Although the fires were set on Election Day, “our first inclination is that this had nothing to do with elections,” though the motive for the suspected arson remained unclear, said Patrick Armon, assistant chief of the Jackson Fire Department.
All fires were extinguished by early morning, before polls opened in Mississippi. All polling places in Jackson were opened on schedule and no polling places were reported to have been impacted by the fires. Reuters reported.
The Jackson Fire Department began receiving calls at around 2:30 a.m., reported WAPT-TV, an ABC News affiliate. All but one of the fires were extinguished by 6 a.m., before voters headed towards the polls. Epiphany church burned for more than four hours before the fire department was able to stop the flames.
The civil rights group NAACP posted a picture of the burning Epiphany Church with a message that read: “We are actively monitoring the situation. No intimidation. No distractions. Go vote.”
“I’ve been here for 30 years. This is a major occurrence,” Patrick Armon, assistant fire chief for the Jackson Fire Department, told WAPT-TV. “This is not something we normally go to. We have about a third of our department on sites.”
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said, “We don’t yet know who or why, but I want to thank the firefighters because they were able to respond to that and still get back to the stations, so that people could set up for voting precincts.”
Screenshot from 16 WAPT News Jackson, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QadYaBoz3xg