A historically black church in Greenville, Mississippi was burned Tuesday night and the words “Vote Trump” were found spray painted on the side of the building.
According to Fire Chief Ruben Brown, the fire that started at around 9 p.m. mostly damaged the main sanctuary. The building suffered heavily from smoke and water damage, but there were no reported injuries, Delta Daily News reported.
Authorities confirmed that the crime was arson, and it is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
Greenville mayor Errick D. Simmons condemned the attack, saying it is a “heinous, hateful and cowardly act” against the black community.
“This act is a direct assault on people’s right to freely worship. We will not rest until the culprit is found and fully prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Simmons said, according to the Clarion Ledger. “This happened in the ‘50s and the ‘60s. This should not happen in 2016.”
Apparently, this was not the first time that vandalism has occurred in the city. In September, a boat ramp was vandalized with the N-word, Simmons said. However, the town itself has a good racial climate. Every fifth Sunday, people, whether black or white, gather together to worship near the river, he added.
Police Chief Delando Wilson said investigators have been talking to a “person of interest” who is a local resident, but no suspect has been identified. He refused to share the person’s identity, according to NBC News.
The FBI is also investigating the incident together with other agencies.
“The FBI Jackson Division is aware of the situation in Greenville and we are working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed,” spokesman Brett Carr told the Clarion Ledger.
Hopewell pastor Carolyn Hudson said none of her church members had received any threat. As for the church building, there are already plans for rebuilding.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help rebuild the church. According to the page, the damage caused by the fire was “very bad,” which could require tearing down of the old building and constructing a new one.
“The animus of this election cycle combined with the potent racial history of burning black churches as a political symbol makes this event something we must not ignore,” the page says.
The goal was to raise $10,000, but as of this writing, the page has already raised more than $200,000.
Meanwhile, the campaign of Donald Trump said it was “deeply saddened” over what happened to Hopewell and that it “condemn[s] in the strongest terms this terrible act that has no place in our society."
"We are grateful that no one was hurt and we urge witnesses with any information to come forward and help bring justice to those who are responsible," the campaign said.