SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Three nearby churches were broken into, but unlike their unfortunate neighbors, they did not go up in flames, Clear View Church and Pine Brook Baptist Church on Highway 110 reported break-ins just minutes after the fire was called in at Dover Baptist Church.
Just after midnight, Smith County sheriff's deputies responded to a possible break-in at Lifegate Church.
Sanctuaries in Monty Nation's neighborhood are now nothing more than burnt debris and ash. He says his church was lucky.
"The Lord was with us last night," he said.
When Nation heard that Dover Baptist Church was on fire, he immediately drove to his church, Clear View, just a few miles away. He was startled by what he found.
"I came up here and found the glass broke out in the front door," said Nations.
It turns out, fire was not the only attack on churches.
"There was also two attempted break-ins last night for churches in the area," said Clay Alexander, an ATF agent. "It doesn't appear as though they entered. It appears as though they tried by smashing windows or doors."
At Clear View, the front glass door was shattered. The church installed an alarm system last week. The alarm wasn't set, but still may have scared the criminal away.
"We had a security sticker on the door," said Nations.
Farther down the road the front door at Pine Brook Baptist Church was also smashed - reported 30 minutes after the fire at Dover was called in.
And, just after midnight, a third possible church break in reported at Lifegate Church in Smith County.
"Following the timeline, they all occur around the same time," said Alexander. "It would lead us to believe that it is somehow related."
It is a pattern that has East Texas churches on guard.
"You don't think about it happening to you," said Nicky Westberry, a member at Dover Baptist Church.
"Many many churches in the area that I know of are having people that spend the night in the church or outside the church and they have alarm systems also," said Nations.
They are ready to protect their places of worship.
ATF asks that if your church is going to use congregation members for added security, do not do it armed. They say being a witness would be the biggest help, so instead of a gun, they ask that you have your phone and camera close by.
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