ATF looking for 3 persons of interest in church arsons - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

ATF looking for 3 persons of interest in church arsons

January fire at Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler January fire at Tyland Baptist Church in Tyler
Aftermath of fire at Dover Baptist Church near Lindale Aftermath of fire at Dover Baptist Church near Lindale

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

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Viewer tips and phone calls helped investigators draw up sketches of three men who may have information about the rash of East Texas church fires. 

There are still no suspects, but investigators are hoping someone recognizes one of the individuals. 

Robert Champion, special agent in charge with the ATF said investigators would like to interview the men because they were seen around certain locations.  "We want to make sure they were there for a reason," he said. 

The first sketch was finished January 22, two days after firefighters were able to save the chapel of Fellowship of Prairie Creek in Lindale. 

The second sketch notes one of the persons of interest has a unique tattoo.  It's an upside down cross, and possibly flames, on his left forearm.  That sketch was completed February 4th - the day Russell Memorial United Methodist Church in Wills Point burned to the ground.

ATF investigators were accompanied by local officials and law enforcement authorities inside the foyer of the Tyler Rose Garden Center, Friday morning.  

They said the third person of interest also has a tattoo - possibly flames - on the back of his neck. 

The third sketch was completed February 66th.  Two days later, Smith County fire crews battled, simultaneously to save Dover Baptist Church, and Clear Spring Missionary Baptist Church.  Both were destroyed.

We asked investigators why they waited until Friday to release the photos.  They said they wanted to be sure the sketches were relevant to their investigation. 

"There have been serial arsons in the past, but this is fast approaching one of the largest ones that we have ever worked on," explained Franceska Perot, public information officer with the ATF.

"They're preying on the community here.  Churches are the heart and soul of the community," said Champion.

Tyler Police and Smith County officials are now working on compiling a list of all the churches in the area.  Chief Gary Swindle said the goal is to better serve and protect more than 200 churches in Tyler, and dozens more located within the county.

"Hopefully we'll be able to put an end to this shortly," said Jim Seaton, Smith County Fire Marshal.

Tyler Fire Marshal Paul Findley said a fire crew will also accompany Tyler Police if they respond to any alarm calls from churches inside the city limits.

If you have any information about the fires, or about the three men now considered persons of interest, call the ATF tip line at 1-888-ATF-FIRE, or you can call 903-675-0061, or 903-675-0062.

Tyler church officials who have not already been contacted by Tyler Police, can call 903.531.1096.  Smith County church officials can call 903.590.2655.

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