Arsonist targeting east Texas churches

February 8, 2010 9:01:03 PM PST
An arsonist is at work, targeting churches in the same area. There have been fires set at eight churches in east Texas. ATF agents say they have gotten tips and are working leads, but six weeks of arson fires in the area has changed the way of life here.

They say in east Texas there is a church on every corner.

"We really are the Bible Belt," said Pastor David Mahfood of the Tyland Baptist Church that was burned down.

Faith means a lot and watching your house of worship become a shell can put that faith to the test.

"It makes you stop because you don't really think there's that type of evil in the world until it actually affects you," said Mahfood.

Especially when the damage was done intentionally.

"It's beyond description. It was devastating," Mahfood said.

Since January 1, ATF investigators say at least seven east Texas church fires have similar circumstances - two in Tyler, one in Lindale, one in Wells Point and three in Athens. Fire chief Neal Franklin says it's even changing their response calls.

"Normally on a burglar alarm at a church, a police officer or a police unit goes. Now we send a fire engine just because we hope to get there soon in case it is that same scenario," said Chief Franklin.

So at the very place where people should feel safe, congregations are hiring security guards and members are volunteering for night watch shifts.

With churches everywhere in this community, the person starting the fire could be anywhere.

"Realizing that we're dealing with somebody who has been hurt and apparently he's trying to go around and inflict as much damage as possible," said Mahfood.