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5 NC Church Fires May Be Connected

February 16, 1998

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Arson was the sermon topic for the Rev. Michael Horne, and he delivered it in his church’s gym because the main building had been burned down.

``We’re not the only people in need,″ he told about 85 church members Sunday. ``We pray for these other churches.″

There have been five church arsons in two North Carolina counties in recent days, including two over the weekend. Horne’s Sunset Forest Baptist Church in Gastonia was the worst hit.

Authorities believe the fires might be connected. All were set intentionally near doors or entrances at the predominately white churches. Officials said they did not know of a possible motive.

The fires come after a similar series of arsons at predominately white churches in southwestern Pennsylvania in late January. Federal authorities are helping out in both cases because they have investigated all church fires since a series of arsons at predominantly black churches in the South during the past two years.

The first North Carolina fire happened Feb. 8 at First Baptist Church in Stanley and was quickly contained. The next arson happened Tuesday at Horne’s church, causing at least $150,000 in damage.

Damage estimates were between $2,000 and $3,000 each in the three fires in the Charlotte area _ Garden Memorial Presbyterian Church on Thursday, and Moore’s Chapel United Methodist Church and New Apostolic Church just hours apart Saturday night.

``We kind of feel it a lot more now that we’re watching others go through it,″ said the Rev. Michael McCrorey of Garden Memorial. ``We’re in prayer for those who are doing it.″

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