Police arrest juvenile suspect in connection with Mississippi church fire

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A juvenile has been arrested in connection with a fire that destroyed a church in Mississippi.

Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton told The Dispatch that the suspect was arrested Monday, hours after the blaze destroyed First Independent Methodist Church in Columbus. Authorities have not released the identity of the boy but the police chief said the suspect lived in the area. Officials also have not released his age.

The fire that was ignited around 1:30 a.m. started inside the church’s sanctuary, according to Columbus Fire and Rescue Chief Martin Andrews. Authorities started getting anonymous tips hours after the blaze was extinguished, leading to the suspect’s arrest.

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The juvenile was also linked to burglary incidents at two other nearby churches, the newspaper reported. Items that were stolen from those churches were discovered when police searched the suspect’s home, Shelton said.

The church was destroyed a day after it resumed in-person services, said Gary Shelton, the church’s pastor. He said his congregation will continue to hold services on church grounds and then decided what their next steps will be.

The suspect is now in custody at a detention center in Columbus and he is expected to face arson and burglary charges, the newspaper reported.

A fire at another church in the city damaged a church van, an outbuilding and a bus on Sunday, police said.

That fire was not related to Monday’s fire. Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton said police have also identified a suspect in that incident and hope to make an arrest soon.