Three Delaware churches hit by arsons in one day

Church fire

Pastor Wilbert Moorer is shown at his church, Healing Hands Christian Church at 546 Berrytown Road in Felton, on Tuesday, one of three that burned down in suspected arsons.(Photo: JASON MINTO/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

(SOURCE)  Arsonists set fire to three churches near Felton early Tuesday morning – completely destroying one – during a four-hour period that rocked the quiet, close-knit Kent County community.

Authorities said the fires are likely connected and occurred within a short distance of each other. Healing Hands Christian Church was burned to the ground. Two other churches suffered interior damage.

Jane Paskey, co-owner of Paskey’s Owl’s Nest, a package store and small bar, said the fires rocked her and Felton, a town where she said everyone knows and looks out for each other.

“It’s sad because when you’re having a hard time, churches are where you go when you want to find your strength,” she said. “It’s shocking that anyone would actually target something that actually gives back.”

By Tuesday afternoon, yellow police tape cordoned off the charred remains of Healing Hands church, nestled in a rural area outside of the Felton town line in southern Kent County. The smell of smoke and burnt wood was still in the air, and knotted, gnarled and blackened metal folding chairs were strewn on the ground.

Seeing that wreckage Tuesday morning was heartbreaking, Pastor Wilber Moorer said.

“When I looked, oh boy it was sad,” he said. “I wanted to cry.”

Whoever is responsible for the fire, they’re forgiven, he said.

“They can burn my building,” Moorer said. “I just feel bad for them.”

He said the whole incident reminded him of Job.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” Moorer said, recounting a biblical verse.

For his part, Moorer said the destruction of his church will not defeat him. He will rebuild and be even stronger than before, he added. Officials estimated about $75,000 in damage.

“[There were] a lot of things in the church. We lost those things,” he said. “We’re still here, and I told the devil, ‘Well, devil, you knocked me down, but the fight is not over because I’ll get up.’

Moorer – who said he started Healing Hands after God came to him in a dream 12 years ago – believes his church was targeted. There have been multiple problems since it was established, he said.

The church, which has a diverse congregation, has been subject to racially tinged vandalism in the past. Two juveniles were arrested in March 2004 for spray-painting slurs on the church. In a separate incident in 2006, vandals spray-painted swastikas and racial slurs in the church.

At one point, the vandalism was so bad that the state had to repave the blacktop and the congregation had to repaint the entire church and building, Moorer said. He added that he decided not to press charges against those arrested.

“I’m not saying that’s 100 percent, but still, I really believe that’s what is going on,” Moorer said. “I don’t care how much we try to cover it up … there’s still a lot of racism going on, on both sides.”

Investigators are trying to develop a motive, said Assistant State Fire Marshal Michael Chionchio. But at this point, authorities have nothing to indicate that the fires were racially motivated, he said.

Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia, said there’s no logical reason for people to damage churches. It’s heartbreaking when there is any kind of destruction to a religious institution, and such acts are a blow to the community, she said.

For three fires to happen is a triple blow, she said.

“I think a house of worship in our society stands for freedom, for something sacred, and if someone wants to make a statement … they know that that statement will come across stronger and more powerful, and certainly more hurtful, than perhaps the burning of a local shop,” Baron-Baer said.

The first fire – at Healing Hands – was called in just before 2 a.m. The church is 2 miles west of U.S. 13, along Berrytown Road.

A second fire – at the Manship Chapel about 4 miles away – was reported shortly after. The third fire – at the Laws Mennonite Church, 5 miles east of U.S.13 – was called in around 5:30 a.m. on reports of smoke coming from the building.

Each church was forcibly entered into, and there were “common denominators” that linked the three blazes, Chionchio said. No one was injured.

“It’s a rare occurrence,” he said of three fires at three churches in one night and in the same area. “Obviously, it’s something that we’ve made a high priority, and we’ll work on it and try to solve it.”

The Manship Chapel sustained about $1,000 in damage. A fire alarm system inside prevented a further spread of flames, Chionchio said. The Laws Mennonite Church sustained about $10,000 in smoke, water and heat damage inside, he said.

Officers from the state police and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting the state’s investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333.

2 thoughts on “Three Delaware churches hit by arsons in one day

  1. Is anything sacred anymore? Sad state of affairs when even a sanctuary is destroyed (in our own country). Thank goodness no one was inside.
    Just another reason to have God in your heart and not just inside a building. People can gather anywhere. Good Lord states that where there is two people gathered in His name He is there as well.
    Holy Father heal thy people. Come quickly, Lord. Amen.

  2. Satanic attacks against God’s people! Anti-Christ on the rise, evil and wickedness spreading through America like a wild fire.
    God Bless!

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