Greenville church burning considered a hate crime

This is what remains of Hopewell M.B. Church in Greenville after a fire Nov. 1. PHOTO COURTESY GOFUNDME.COM

Staff, wire reports

This is what remains of Hopewell M.B. Church in Greenville after a fire Nov. 1. PHOTO COURTESY GOFUNDME.COM

The burning of a black church on Nov. 1, in Greenville that was also spray-painted with a “Vote Trump” message is making national news and being investigated as a hate crime.

Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons described the burning of Hopewell M.B. Church as a “hateful and cowardly act.” Simmons said local officials consider the fire a hate crime because of the political message he believes was intended to interfere with worship and intimidate voters. “We have contacted local, state and federal authorities of this hateful and cowardly act,” Simmons said. “This matter is being investigated as a hate crime. This act is a direct assault of people’s right to freely worship. Moreover, this matter is being investigated with all deliberate speed, and we will not rest until the culprit is found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

During a briefing the afternoon of Nov. 2 Fire Chief Ruben Brown told the media, “It has been concluded … the fire was intentionally set.” Brown reported the fire caused heavy damage to the sanctuary and water and heat damage to the kitchen and pastor’s study. Greenville Police Chief Delando Wilson said investigators were speaking with a person of interest as of Nov. 2. The 111-year-old church congregation will rebuild the church at its current location, according to Pastor Caroline Hudson.

At 9:16 p.m. Nov. 1, the Greenville Fire Department was dispatched to Hopewell M.B. Church, 640 North Delesseps, for a reported church fire. Four units responded to the scene to discover the church engulfed in flames. The church was vandalized with the words, “Vote Trump” spray-painted on the side of the church.

On Nov. 2, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) gave the following statement regarding the burning of the church: “Last evening, Hopewell M.B. Church in Greenville, Miss., was burned and defaced in what was a deeply shocking and saddening event that harkens back to a much darker day in Mississippi. I am very concerned about this heinous crime and will urge federal government agencies to coordinate with state and local law enforcement to utilize every resource at their disposal to investigate this incident and bring the perpetrator to justice. “The political message of the vandalism is obviously an attempt to sway public opinion regarding the upcoming election. I encourage all citizens not to be deterred by this cowardly act and exercise your right to vote at the ballot box.” Greenville city officials are limited to what may be disclosed as the investigation is underway.

Chief Wilson confirmed a reward of $11,000 will be given to anyone who comes forward with information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person or persons responsible for the crime. The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), State Fire Marshals Office and the Washington County CrimeStoppers are collectively offering the reward. Anyone with information about the church burning should call (662) 378-1616 or (662) 378-TIPS (8477).

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