A predominantly black church in North Carolina was intentionally set ablaze, authorities said.
Charlotte fire officials are looking into whether Wednesday morning's arson at Briar Creek Baptist Church was a hate crime, NBC station WCNC reported. Although there were no initial indications that the crime was motivated by hate, officials haven’t ruled it out, fire investigator David Williams told the station.
The blaze caused about $250,000 in damage.
Pastor Mannix Kinsey said the church's congregation has already forgiven the culprit. "Buildings can be repaired, they can be built over,” Kinsey told WCNC. “This is the opportunity for God to touch the hearts of individuals."
Crews arrived at the church about 1 a.m. on Wednesday after residents in a nearby apartment complex reported seeing flames. It took more than 75 firefighters to bring the three-alarm inferno under control.
While the sanctuary was spared, the ceiling collapsed and there was significant damage to an area used for a kids' summer camp, WCNC reported.
Investigators are examining hate as a possible motive because Briar Creek Baptist Church is an 85-member church with a mostly black congregation, according to WCNC.
The arson attack came a week after a mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.