Mayor: Person arrested for unrelated crimes could be linked to MLK Church fire in Springfield

Hampden County

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – As local and federal authorities continue to look into the early morning fire at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield earlier this week, the mayor’s office announced new developments in the investigation Thursday night. 

In a statement to 22News, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he was informed that “during the course of this investigation, an individual has been arrested for unrelated crimes and other charges could be pending depending the outcome of this investigation.” 

FBI, Arson & Bomb Squad, ATF, investigating fire at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Presbyterian Church

My police and fire departments have been working very hard with our federal and state authorities to bring any individual or individuals to justice on this matter.   

I have just been informed by Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood and Fire Commissioner BJ Calvi that during the course of this investigation an individual has been arrested for unrelated crimes and other charges could be pending depending the outcome of this investigation.  

 I congratulate all our local, state, and federal partners that have worked around the clock on this matter.  As I have stated previously there is zero tolerance with regards to any crimes of this nature.  Further information will follow in this ongoing investigation.    

Again, in these situations, special attention will be given to houses of worship.  As I have recently stated and just as important, we will do whatever we can to help assist Rev. Dr. Terrlyn Avery with the rebuilding efforts with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church.  Commissioners Clapprood, Calvi, and I have spoken to and updated Rev. Dr. Avery on the ongoing situation.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno

FBI, Arson & Bomb Squad, ATF, investigating fire at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Presbyterian Church 

The individuals identity has not been released as of Thursday night.

Rev. Dr. Terrlyn L. Curry Avery, Pastor for the Springfield church stated in part, “The leaders of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Presbyterian Church (MLK Church) and I have been informed that an individual has been arrested in connection with the burning of the church.  We understand that the investigation is ongoing.”

Although we have suffered a tremendous loss and certainly believe that whoever committed this atrocity should be held accountable for their actions, we also recognize that the person is clearly a wounded soul. As such, we offer forgiveness, along with our prayers for his spiritual, emotional, and psychological healing.

I want to thank community leaders and my fellow faith leaders who have expressed their concern for, and support of, our members and about the impact that this burning has on a community that is already besieged. I thank everyone else who has offered prayers, kind words, and support to the members of MLK Church.  If you would like to make a donation to the rebuilding of MLK Church, please do so at psne.org/donate.

Rev. Dr. Terrlyn L. Curry Avery

Rev. Talbert Swan, Rep. Bud Williams call on Springfield officials to take “proactive steps” following church fire

Springfield firefighters were called to the MLK church located on Concord Terrace at about 5 a.m. Monday for the fire, which caused heavy damage to the structure as smoke and flames billowed out of multiple locations.

Fire Commissioner Calvi told 22News Monday morning no one was inside the church or around the area when firefighters arrived. The fire is being investigated as “highly suspicious,” and even as a potential hate crime.  

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Calvi explained that the fire is highly suspicious because this is the third fire in the area, in the past three weeks. The cause of the fire continues to be investigated by the Springfield Arson and Bomb Squad, with assistance from the State Police Arson and Bomb Squad, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). 

Church leaders told 22News there are no cameras in the back of the building to catch the incident either, something he said will be changing immediately. The church has insurance and is currently continuing to do virtual services as they figure out what’s next.

Community begins boarding up roof, windows of MLK Jr. Community Presbyterian Church after fire 

The congregation, which was established back in 1979.

If you have any information on the fire you are asked to call the arson hotline at 800-682-9229. A $5,000 reward has been announced for information that may lead to a suspect. You can call the line anonymously as well.

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