ATF investigates West Tennessee church fires

ATF investigates West Tennessee church fires
Orysa Cowboy Church (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Orysa Cowboy Church (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Spring Hill Baptist Church (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Spring Hill Baptist Church (Source: WMC Action News 5)

(WMC) - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is investigating church fires in two West Tennessee counties.

Two churches, Trinity United Methodist Church in Haywood County and Orysa Cowboy Church in Lauderdale County, caught fire Tuesday night. The Lauderdale County sheriff says they are also investigating a break-in at Spring Hill Baptist Church in Lauderdale County.ATF agents says they have not determined whether the fires were intentionally set.

The blue sky could be seen through the charred and empty frame of Trinity United Methodist Church.

"The building is gone. The church isn't," Pastor John Bonston said. "This is an act of persecution if it's arson ... That, to me, is one of the worst things other than taking the life of a child."

Even if the fires were intentional, Pastor Bonston says the flames cannot erase the history the land holds. The building that stood on the land for 200 years had a historic visitor.

"It was called Buckhorn Methodist Episcopal Church South. Andrew Jackson worshipped in it at one time when he was serving in the area," Bonston explained.

The cemetery behind the sanctuary was untouched.

"There's a Revolutionary War soldier buried. Soldiers from both the Union and the Confederacy buried there, as well as former slaves and people all the way up until last week," he added.

The pastor at Orysa Cowboy Church arrived at his church before the fire took off.

"I saw that the door knob was laying on the front porch," Pastor G.K. Ballard said. "I believe the Lord, Jesus Christ, intervened and saved our church."

Deacon Major Williams of Springhill Missionary Baptist Church believes his church's alarm limited it to a break-in.

"The alarm was going off at 3:30 in the morning," he explained. "A pretty low person would break into churches."

The investigation team is interviewing the churches' congregations, as well as people from local businesses.

"We're going to look at whatever evidence we can collect at each site to determine if there are connections between the three incidents," said Michael Roland, who is the ATF resident agent in charge.

"We will rebuild," said Pastor Bonston. "And when we do, we will be stronger."

Copyright 2015 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.