Churches across East Texas on high alert - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Churches across East Texas on high alert

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The investigations have begun after a busy weekend for Tyler fire crews. Around 6:30 Sunday night, the First Church of Christ, Scientist went up in flames, and, Saturday night, Tyland Baptist Church burned to the ground.  ATF Agents are now working both scenes.

The weekend's orange flames are raising red flags.

"It's basically gone from one scene to two, overnight," said Clay Alexander, the ATF resident agent in charge.

Alexander said more than two dozen experts will eventually be in Tyler.  They will form two teams, one at each church to nail down exactly what, or who caused last weekend's fires.

"[We are] not saying that the two in Tyler are arson, but there are a lot of similarities in church fires burning in a short amount of time," Alexander explained.

Three Athens churches burned down just days ago.  Alexander said two of those fires were started intentionally.

"We're going to also revisit those two sites to determine if there's anything that will link all of them," he said.

"There's no guarantee, if this is arson, that it's finished," said Jeff Tucker, Deputy Tyler Fire Marshal.

Tucker said the fires appear to be random with no specific denomination, or particular ethnic group being targeted.  He hopes every church takes heed.

"Be vigilant, watch your churches," he advised.

Dick Summers has been a member of First Church of Christ, Scientist for 30 years.  He joined other church members in the parking lot, Monday morning, comforting one another.

"You may burn the building, but the church is a community of ideas and concepts of Christ Jesus," said Claudia Steed.

Liz Smith joined last Fall.

"Like the burning bush was not consumed, this is not touching our church family," she said.

"I think all the members are committed to restoration," said Summers.

The ATF said accelerant sniffing dogs will likely join the two teams in Tyler.  Nothing is official, but authorities are offering a $5,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest.

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