Investigators believe that the fire at the First Pentecostal Church was deliberate, according to ABC News. What’s more, graffiti was left at the scene of the incident, reading, “Bet you stay at home now you hypokrites [sic].”
Governor Tate Reeves (R-Miss.) condemned the burning of the church in a tweet on May 21, writing: “I am heartbroken and furious. In Mississippi, a church was just burned to the ground. They had been trying to open services… What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayers for this country.”
Reeves addressed the incident during a news conference, saying that this behavior does not define Mississippi, and that it wasn’t “who we are as a state.”
Pastor Jerry Waldrop said that he didn’t know who would ever leave a message like that, saying that as far as he knew, the church had no enemies.
“No enemies that we know of. We don’t know anyone that we even think could be capable of doing something like this,” Waldrop said.
According to the lawsuit (pdf), officers issued citations to Waldrop for violating the stay-at-home order on Easter Sunday (April 12).
The lawsuit also claimed that on April 22, “three Holly Springs police officers disrupted plaintiff’s peaceful mid-week Bible study and shut it down on threat of criminal citations for violation of Holly Springs’ Stay Home Order, despite the fact that plaintiffs were practicing social distancing and complying with all applicable health requirements.”
In both cases, “plaintiffs seek immediate and long-term relief from this unconstitutional order.”
Stephen Crampton, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, which represents the church, said that the church was merely standing up for its constitutional rights, according to Local Memphis.
“While there may be room for reasonable disagreement, it seems no call to take such extreme and violent action,” Crampton said, referring to the burning of the church.
The investigation into the incident is still ongoing, and anyone who may have information that leads to the arrest or conviction of those responsible is encouraged to contact authorities, who have offered a reward.