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FBI inquires after Briar Creek Road Baptist Church fire

The charred remains of the back left wing of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church on June 25. The church was intentionally set on fire early Wednesday morning.
The charred remains of the back left wing of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church on June 25. The church was intentionally set on fire early Wednesday morning. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

The FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry to determine whether any federal crimes were committed when a fire that investigators ruled was set intentionally severely damaged Briar Creek Road Baptist Church last week.

The inquiry will be conducted alongside a Charlotte Fire Investigation arson task force.

The Southern Poverty Law Center found six predominantly African-American churches in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida and North Carolina with reported fires in the past week, three of which are being investigated as arson.

The inquiries come on the heels of the arrest of 21-year-old Dylan Roof in the mass shooting of nine African-American bible study attendees at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

“Opening a preliminary inquiry doesn’t suggest that a hate crime has occurred,” FBI Charlotte field office spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said in a statement. “But rather ensures that it is getting additional scrutiny for hate crime potential.”

While new developments have been made in the Briar Creek Road Baptist church investigation, ​​​Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department spokesman Rob Tufano said there is nothing to suggest whether or not the fire was a hate crime.

Rhonda Kinsey, co-pastor of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, said their current focus is getting the utilities turned on in other buildings, like the sanctuary where service was held Sunday with no air conditioning or electricity.

“There was more damage done than we expected,” she said.

She said a building inspector will have to provide them with clearance before they are able turn on the power.

Kinsey also said church leaders are going to create a donation page online, and they’re working to aid the church’s summer-long day camp, Camp “Son” Shine, which was moved to a nearby site in Plaza Midwood that was home to Green Memorial Baptist Church until it dissolved recently.

Nearly all 28 children who signed up attended Monday morning, but some are having trouble finding a way to get to the new location because it’s no longer within walking distance, Kinsey said.

“So many of (the children) said they were so concerned,” she said. “They said they could only see me on television.”

Tufano said CMPD encourages the public to contact Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 with any relevant information.

Fowler: 704-358-5294

Want to help?

Donations for Briar Creek Road Baptist Church can be sent to Metrolina Baptist Association. Checks should be made to MBA, with Briar Creek in the notation, and mailed to MBA, 328 W. Carson Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203.

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