35 year-old David Lopez Jackson (shown in photo insert) has been charged with arson following fires at two predominantly African-American churches in St. Louis. The background photo shown is of the New Life Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, after a fire on October 17, 2015. (J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP and screengrab from KMOV News 4 report)
(Updated 10/30/2015) ST. LOUIS (AP) — Authorities charged A 35-year-old Black St. Louis man with arson following fires at two predominantly African-American churches earlier this month and federal investigators said they no longer believe the incidents were a hate crime.
David Lopez Jackson was charged Friday in St. Louis Circuit Court with two counts of second-degree arson in the Oct. 17 fires at Ebenezer Lutheran Church and New Life Missionary Baptist Church.
The blazes were among seven in the St. Louis area between Oct. 8 and Oct. 22. Five were in St. Louis and two were in nearby Jennings, all within a few miles of each other. Five of the congregations are predominantly Black, one is racially mixed and one is mostly White.
The fires spurred a hate-crime investigation based on either racial or religious motives. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Thursday there is no indication a hate crime occurred.
In this Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, Pastor David Triggs and his wife, Charronda, hold hands during an outdoor service following a fire at the church at the New Life Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Authorities announced Friday, Oct. 30, 2015 the arrest of a 35-year-old black man suspected of setting fires at several predominantly African-American St. Louis-area churches that spurred a hate-crime investigation. (J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)
The region is still recovering from the events surrounding last year’s police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, and a grand jury’s subsequent decision not to charge the officer who shot him. Brown was Black and unarmed when he was shot by White Darren Wilson in a case that helped spur the national “Black Lives Matter” movement, and it renewed concern about the treatment of minorities in the St. Louis region.
Most of the fires were during the night when churches were unoccupied, although one at a Catholic church was during the day when a priest was there.
No one was hurt in any of the incidents.
In all seven fires the front doors were ignited. Damage was mostly minimal, but New Life Missionary Baptist Church was so badly damaged that pastor David Triggs wasn’t certain if the congregation would rebuild or move.
The churches affected represented several denominations — two Catholic, two Baptist, one Lutheran, one Church of Christ and one non-denominational.