- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2015

St. Louis authorities believe an arsonist or arsonists “meant to send a message” in 7 church burnings that have rocked the area in the past 11 days.

In each case, the fire was set at an exterior door and when no one was at the facility, according to a joint statement from the St. Louis Police and Fire Departments and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, CNN reported.

At least six of the attacks took place at predominantly black churches. The latest blaze occurred Thursday at the downtown Shrine of St. Joseph Church, which is largely white, The Associated Press reported.

“We believe that this fire-setting activity is meant to send a message,” the statement said. It didn’t specify what the message was.

“If you have observed anyone who has recently expressed anger or frustration with our religious community or with these particular churches, we ask that you contact us,” the statement said. “If you have noticed anyone or anything suspicious or unusual in the areas near the churches please contact us.”

Authorities have not yet determined if the fires are connected. A $9,000 reward is being offered to anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest, a local CBS News affiliate reported.

Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said the department is going door to door and passing out fliers, pleading with residents to come forward with information. He also said the department is changing its tactics on responding to fires at churches.

“We’ve changed some our protocols in the last week,” he told CBS. “We’re responding a little differently to anything that comes in at a church. It’s an automatic first alert. We don’t want to have any delay in our response. We want to have our crews there as fast as we can.”

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