GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) The mayor of a small Mississippi town is describing a fire at a black church that was also spray-painted with a “Vote Trump” message as a “hateful and cowardly act.”


Fire damaged Hopewell M.B. Baptist Church (shown right) in Greenville, Miss., Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. “Vote Trump” (shown left) was spray-painted on an outside wall of the black member church. Fire Chief Ruben Brown tells The Associated Press that firefighters found flames and smoke pouring from the sanctuary of the church just after 9 p.m. Tuesday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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

Mayor Errick Simmons told a news conference Wednesday that said local officials consider the fire a hate crime is because of the political message he believes was intended to interfere with worship and intimidate voters.

But neither Simmons nor Fire Chief Ruben Brown has labeled the fire a case of arson, although Brown has said arson investigators are at the scene. Brown says the fire caused heavy damage to the sanctuary and water and heat damage to the kitchen and pastor’s study.

Pastor Caroline Hudson says the 111-year-old church congregation will rebuild on the same site.