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Man faces malicious mischief charge after series of fires in Mississippi, including 2 at historically African American churches

<i>Rogelio V. Solis/AP</i><br/>A fireman observes the remains of a burned Epiphany Lutheran Church near midtown Jackson
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
A fireman observes the remains of a burned Epiphany Lutheran Church near midtown Jackson

By Raja Razek, Jennifer Henderson and Joe Sutton, CNN

A man was arrested in connection with a series of arsons, including fires at two historically African American churches, early Tuesday in Jackson, Mississippi, authorities said.

The suspect was identified as Devin McLaurin, 23, according to Capt. Crystal Houston of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office. CNN has been unable to determine if McLaurin has an attorney.

McLaurin was charged with malicious mischief, Houston said. He was arrested after firefighters responded to seven fires, according to Mississippi Insurance Department spokesperson Beth Reiss.

The fires at two churches, two homes, two businesses and a baseball field house started at about 2:30 a.m., Jackson Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Cleotha Sanders Jr. said via email.

The two churches are historically African American congregations, according to Melissa Payne, a spokesperson for the city of Jackson.

The fires, which were safely extinguished, were intentionally set within a 2-mile radius, Sanders said.

One of the churches, Greater Bethlehem Temple Church, is located two blocks north of Jackson State University, a historically Black college.

“In the nearly 60 years of its existence, the congregation has grown from only five to over 1800 members,” according to the church’s Facebook page.

Epiphany Lutheran Church, nearly a mile away, was also set ablaze.

There were no injuries, according to Sanders.

“I stand with the Jackson Fire Department and Jackson Police Department in their efforts to get to the bottom of these heinous acts,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a statement.

“These aren’t simply matters of property destruction — which is bad enough — but two of the properties that were set ablaze were churches that Jackson residents have attended for years. We would like to know — among other things — what the motivation was.”

The motive is not known. The suspect is Black.

No polling locations were affected by the fires, officials said.

State fire marshals are assisting in the investigation.

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