Mixed feelings over destroyed church

HOUSTON Investigators are now trying to determine how the flames started. They're checking to see if it was set on purpose.

The church on Andrews and Matthews near downtown had been empty since the congregation found a new location. And neighbors say what was a place of worship turned into a haven for crime.

Feelings about the fire are mixed. For some of the older residents, the church was a piece of history, once a place for hope in what has historically been one of Houston's poorest neighborhoods. For others, it was just one more abandoned property keeping drug dealers at work in the Fourth Ward.

The fire began before 5am Saturday and slowly roused neighbors with the crackle of flames and the smell of smoke.

"I'm shocked. I'm speechless," said nearby resident Darline House. "I can't wait until my pastor gets here. I can't believe this."

House told us it was once her church. But within hours, bulldozers reduced the old building to a pile of splintered wood. Some neighbors admitted they were happy to see it go.

"Nobody really cared for it," said resident Quincy Bui.

Bui says the church has sat abandoned for at least seven years now, attracting vagrants and drug dealers. And he suspects they may be responsible for setting the fire, now being investigated as arson.

For Pedro Arenas, the early morning fire also created a sense of déjà vu.

"On the corner, there was another one, and two blocks," he said.

He was there three years ago when an even larger fire consumed the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church right across the street and last year when the Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church two blocks over caved in.

But this time, it's a little different. And Arenas can't help the way he feels.

"I'm happy," he said. "This building was used for very bad things; people making crack, hiding cocaine, and I have my babies in here."

Amazingly, we found there are nine churches within a four block radius of here. That includes the new location for the Bibleway Baptist church, which used to congregate there.

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