Authorities in South Carolina said Wednesday that they were investigating a devastating fire at a black church that was the target of a Ku Klux Klan attack 20 years ago.
It wasn't clear whether the fire that destroyed Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville on Tuesday night was arson. Officials at a morning news conference said they were continuing to investigate.
“We haven't ruled anything out at this point,” said Craig Chillcott of the Charlotte field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Greeleyville is about 50 miles north of Charleston, where a pastor and eight parishioners were shot to death at the Emanuel AME Church on June 17. A white man, who espoused racist views, is being held on nine murder counts.
The fire took place as federal authorities are investigating a series of fires at black churches in several Southern states. There is no indication that the fires are connected, officials have said.
The latest fire was reported as storms with lightning moved through the area.
“It’s sad and a bit disheartening, and my heart goes out to this particular congregation, having to endure the loss of their sanctuary by fire again,” said the Rev. Allen W. Parrott, an elder of the AME churches in the area. “Everybody’s a little emotional, but good folks. Good Christian folk who are going to pull together and move forward.”
“The African Methodist Episcopal Church has always been a church of resilience. We’ve been going through some emotional things the last few weeks, but we still know that God is able, and we will rally,” he told reporters.
“Greeleyville is a small community with a big heart,” Mayor Jesse Parker said. “When we went out to the scene last night we were saddened by what we saw there.”
Two members of the Ku Klux Klan pleaded guilty to starting the 1995 fire at Mount Zion and a second blaze at another predominantly black church.