FBI Investigating Fire At Wagoner County Church As Possible Hate Crime

Although the cause of the fire hasn't been determined by the State Fire Marshall's Office, law enforcement strongly suspects arson.

Monday, August 19th 2013, 1:32 pm

By: Craig Day

The historic Okay United Methodist Church was destroyed by fire, and authorities are investigating it as a possible hate crime.

Church members are heartbroken over the loss of their church, built in 1923. And what makes it even worse is the fire was likely intentionally set by someone full of hate.

The fire that destroyed the Okay United Methodist Church started just before midnight Saturday night.

All the historic church records, old photographs of Baptisms and other special occasions burned along with the church.

"The congregation has many memories that were inside this church," said Pastor Stephanie Crogan.

She said losing the church hurts, but it's more painful knowing the fire was likely intentionally set.

"it was a place of God, it was a place of worship and it's hard to look at," Crogan said.

The fire marshal will determine the cause, but investigators with the Wagoner County Sheriff's Office strongly suspect arson.

"You don't think this would happen in small towns, but you know there's people like that everywhere," said Captain Jake Kelley.

A couple of weeks ago, windows were broken at the church and someone had written anti-religious graffiti on the church, including satanic references.

"It's disgusting," Kelley said.

Because of the earlier anti religious graffiti, the FBI is looking into it as a possible hate crime.

Despite the fire, church members met Sunday morning and the congregation of about 30 members will continue to hold services.

Firefighters were able to salvage a 100-year-old church bell from the rubble. Other churches have offered their facilities and donated hymnals.

"It's a strong congregation, it's strong in spirit, and we're going to rely on God to lead us through this. This isn't going to tear us down," Crogan said.

Kelley said, "We're going to find who did this."

Anyone with information that could help in the investigation is urged to call the Wagoner County Sheriff's Office at 918-485-3124.


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