Mississippi fire chief: church blaze was arson

"Samples and evidence have been collected from inside the church and are being analysed to determine the accelerant or ignition source", Brown said.

“It definitely will have to be reconstructed from front to back, ” he said.

The fire Tuesday night heavily damaged the Hopewell M.B. Church in Greenville, Mississippi.

"It tries to push your beliefs on someone else, and this is a predominantly black church and no one has a right to try to influence the way someone votes in this election". The FBI is involved, saying they would work with law enforcement to determine if this was a civil rights crime given the fact that it was a Black church.

"We consider it a hate crime", Simmons told the Associated Press.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican who has been campaigning for his party's presidential nominee Donald Trump, said "we expect a suspect will be identified and brought to justice". The words "Vote Trump" were also spray-painted on the side of the 111-year-old building. It took about an hour for firefighters to fully extinguish the flames and the damage from the "heinous, hateful, cowardly act" was extensive, said Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons.

About 78 percent of Greenville's population of roughly 30,000 people are black, according to the AP.

"The reason we labeled it a hate crime, we feel that the quote that was placed on the church is basically, it's an intimidation of someone's right to vote whatever way they choose to vote", said Greenville Police Chief Chief Delando Wilson. Thompson said the department has jurisdiction to investigate cases that might be considered "domestic terrorism". Hopewell pastor Carolyn Hudson, who also spoke at the press conference, said the church has never made any political statements and has never been vandalized before.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat whose district includes Greenville, said the fire and graffiti "harkens back to a much darker day in MS".

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, described the church as "a cornerstone of this majority-Black community located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta". “We are not angry, but our hearts are broken.”.

A reward of up to $11,000 is being offered for anyone who has information about the incident.

  • Leroy Wright