HORIZON CITY – A suspicious fire at a church that has drawn the ire of parishioners also has drawn the interest of the FBI and other federal agencies which are investigating the fire as a possible hate crime.The kitchen, an electronics storage room, two restrooms and a fellowship hall where the church community congregated for drinks and cake, are completely scorched. Church officials on Tuesday said they do not have insurance and the blaze caused more than $100,000 in damages.
“The church has responded in a big way. We have gotten countless volunteers out of the area and out of different churches, to come in and help us with the clean up process,” said Marco Butler, the Horizon Bible Church senior pastor. “This (rebuilding) process won’t take place anytime overnight, it’s going to be a long steady process.”
“I think with tragedy and disaster, comes a whole different level of love and community,” he said. “If it was arson, if it was a hate crime, the only thing I can really do is pray for those that have that heart. It happens, it has happened throughout history. That’s just the way it is. But out of every negative thing, there’s a positive thing.”
Horizon City Police Chief Robert Wiles said investigators still do not know what caused the blaze.
Police were dispatched to the Horizon Bible Church, 14201 McMahon, shortly before midnight on July 29. Wiles said a neighbor saw smoke coming from the roof of the church as he was driving home.Several Soccoro and Horizon City firefighters helped put out the fire, he said.
“My neighbor smelled smoke. He went around the house and saw the flame,” said Lilo Spencer, who has been a church member for 35 years. “We never expected to be like this. Nobody saw anything, nobody saw anything.”
Spencer said the people who attend the church every week are stunned and angry. Most have been interviewed by the FBI, she said.
Special Agent Andrea Simmons, a spokeswoman for El Paso FBI, said agents were initially called to the scene when the fire happened. Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are also investigating.
“We have opened an investigation to see if this is possibly a hate crime, to determine whether there is a religious aspect to the arsonist’s intent,” she said. “It may just be an arson. It may not have anything to do with trying to disrupt the church.”
West Coast 911 firefighting news source – El Paso Times