A “highly suspicious” overnight fire at a Black church in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Monday is being investigated by local and federal authorities.
Firefighters responded to a call at the Martin Luther King Jr., Community Presbyterian Church at about 5 a.m. on Monday morning, according to Springfield Fire Commissioner Bernard Calvi. It took about an hour to put the blaze out, leaving the church “unusable” due to the damage.
“It’s highly suspicious,” Calvi said. “There’s been three other fires in this general area in the last three weeks.”
Fire officials are working to eliminate any possible accidental causes while investigators from the Springfield Police and FBI canvas the area for any possible leads from witnesses in the area. The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco and Massachusetts State Police Arson and Bomb Squad are also assisting in the investigation.
“It’s a church that burned at nighttime, so it’s a potential hate crime,” Calvi said Monday.
The church was founded in 1979 and is currently led by Reverend Dr. Terrlyn L. Curry Avery, according to its website. Ronn Johnson, with Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services, told NBC affiliate WWLP that the roof of the church was recently replaced through a congregation fundraising campaign.
Authorities are asking anyone with details on the fire to contact the arson hotline at 800-682-9229, with a $5,000 reward offered for information that leads to the cause of the fire.