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

Hampden County

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Firefighters in Springfield worked through the morning hours Monday to put out a fire at the Martin Luther King Community Presbyterian Church in the city’s Mason Square area.

Just after 5:00 A.M., our 22News crew could see Springfield firefighters cutting holes through the roof of the building, located at 14 Concord Terrace, as smoke continued to billow out of multiple locations. The fire was put out before 8:00 A.M.

In the daylight the damage from a fire can be seen better but in the early hours of Monday morning, clouds of smoke billowed from 40 year old church windows and the roof of MLK Community Presbyterian church, most of the damage in the back.

“At first it was like ‘am I dreaming?’,” Church Clerk Ascension, Lisa Baker told 22News when speaking about hearing of the fire.

Ronn Johnson, President and CEO of Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services was the first to show up and he doesn’t think this fire was an accident.

“It’s pretty devastating. We’ve had sort of small little fires back around some cardboard that was stored and the department took care of that issue for us. We didn’t think too much of it, thought could have been maybe someone tossed a cigarette or something like that but clearly there were some other intentions.”

Leaning against a pole, Johnson watched as firefighters saved as much of the church as they could. Firefighters gave him the bible they saved that he took to his car for safe keeping.

“I think that a church burning, aside from someone losing their home, has got to be one the worst possible things that could happen. To burn down God’s house,” Johnson told 22News.

He said the roof of the church was just replaced a few weeks ago, after the small church congregation of around 50 people held a fundraising campaign. Church Clerk Ascension, Lisa Baker, confirmed to 22News the roof had just been repaired before Christmas.

“It’s a small congregation so every resource they have is very valuable to them,” Johnson told 22News.

But despite the fire, parishioners spirits are still high.

“I think we’ll get a sky light. The building is the building it holds lots of memories but it’s not our church. Our church are our people,” Baker told 22News.

According to Springfield Fire Department Commissioner, BJ Calvi, no one was inside the church or around the area when firefighters arrived. Johnson told 22News there are no cameras in the back of the building to catch the incident either, something he said will be changing immediately.

Baker has been attending the church for more than two decades. “You can set fire the building, it can go away. But our church in this pandemic we have found that we are stronger,” Baker told 22News.

The church has insurance and is currently continuing to do virtual services as they figure out what’s next.

Springfield Fire Commissioner BJ Calvi told 22News they received the call about the fire at around 5:00 AM. When firefighters got there, they saw flames coming from the back of the church.

Calvi said the cause of the fire is being 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). He told 22News that it may be connected to other acts in the area recently.

The FBI is involved with the investigation given that the fire happened during the early morning and the building is a church, making the incident a potential hate crime.

Calvi also said the fire is highly suspicious because this is the third fire in the area, in the past three weeks.

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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