6 of 8 church fires being investigated now ruled arson

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - ATF investigators say that they have rounded up evidence that could put whoever set the East Texas church fires in jail.

It was not an accident that the Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler was reduced to ashes on Saturday, or that the First Church of Christ Scientist burned to the ground the day after.

"All of the fires that occurred in the churches this past weekend within the city of Tyler have been determined to be acts of arson," said Paul Findley, a Tyler Fire Marshal.

Wednesday's fire at Fellowship of Prairie Creek Church in Lindale was also intentional. However, since that church suffered less damage compared to the Tyler fires, investigators have collected evidence that could lead to the capture of the suspected arsonist.

"Because the church wasn't destroyed, there's...some physical evidence that we're looking at, where we...maybe couldn't get at a church that is completely destroyed," said Thomas Crowley, an ATF agent.

ATF will not disclose any specific evidence collected in the field or whether or not the Tyler and Lindale fires are connected.

"No two fires are the same, and the two fires that we had here in Tyler, while they were both extremely destructive, they're two separate scenes," said Findley.

In total, ATF is investigating eight East Texas church fires dating back to late last year, when the First Baptist Church of Kerens, near Corsicana, caught fire. That fire has not yet been ruled as arson, and neither has the Little Hope Baptist Church Fire in Van Zandt County. However, all three Athens fires have been ruled arson.

"We certainly will be vigilant until the suspects are caught," said Gary Swindle, Tyler Chief of Police.

As a show of support for the churches that were burned, several other East Texas churches and businesses have organized a prayer rally this weekend. That rally will be on Sunday at 1:00pm at Bergfeld Park in Tyler.

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