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Six thousand dollars in reward money is being offered by the First Baptist Church of Church Hill ($5,000) and the Church Hill Police Department ($1,000) for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for an early Wednesday burglary and fire at the First Baptist Church of Church Hill on East Main Boulevard.

The church sustained fire, smoke and water damage early Wednesday apparently after burglars started two fires in the sanctuary. On Wednesday afternoon, Church Hill Police Chief Mark Johnson issued a news release on Wednesday afternoon about the incident in which he asked that anyone with knowledge of the crime call police.

“On March 23rd at approximately 2:50 a.m., officers with the Church Hill Police Department responded to a fire alarm at the First Baptist Church of Church Hill located at 202 E. Main Blvd.,” Chief Johnson wrote in the news release. “Church Hill Officers observed flames inside the sanctuary. The Church Hill Fire Department was paged out and responded to the scene. The fire was quickly extinguished by a combination of the sprinkler system and responding firefighters. However, the church was heavily damaged by smoke and water from the sprinkler system.”

 

The fire chief noted that by the time firefighters entered the church sanctuary, the church’s fire sprinklers had discharged, extinguishing the two fires in the altar area of the church. “We didn’t have to use any water to put out the fires,” Chief Wood said. “But the sanctuary was filled with smoke and we used fans to get as much of it out as possible.”

Firefighters quickly determined that the two sanctuary fires had been intentionally set, Chief Wood said. He noted that the fires remain under investigation by the Church Hill Police Department. A police spokesperson said this morning that a report about the fire was not yet on file and that Police Chief Mark Johnson was not available for comment.

The police chief noted in the news release that a CHPD investigation revealed that someone (likely more than one) gained entry to the church by an unknown means. “There is a possibility that the suspect(s) had access to one or more keys to the church,” Chief Johnson wrote.

However they entered the church, the suspect(s) committed petty vandalism by pouring toilet bowl cleaner onto the floor, the chief noted in news release. The suspect(s) also committed theft by removing multiple miscellaneous items from the locked music room, then placing the items in a pile outside (the church) before abandoning them, the chief wrote.

“The suspect(s) deliberately set two fires near the stage/altar,” Chief Johnson wrote. “One in the middle. The other on the left side on the steps leading to the altar. we are estimating the fire, smoke, and water damage will end up exceeding a million dollars. We are excluding no one as a suspect, however, this may have crime may have been committed by young people.”

The chief also noted that Church Hill police are in possession of items the suspect(s) handled and will be forwarding them to the TBI crime lab with a request to detect latent fingerprints. “We have also made a request to obtain video footage of a nearby business with surveillance equipment,” Chief Johnson wrote.

The chief noted that First Baptist Church of Church Hill is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the damage while the Church Hill Police Department is offering a separate $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible.

“I am asking anyone with any information on this despicable crime to contact us immediately by calling (423) 357-7181 or (423) 357-3487,” Chief Johnson wrote.

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