Investigators Search For A Tulsa Church Arsonist

Wednesday, January 14th 2009, 7:57 am
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley and Scott Thompson, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Tulsa Fire investigators are looking for an arsonist they say caused at least $100,000 in damage to a north Tulsa church.  The fire comes one week after Bowen Baptist Church was vandalized.

Investigators are still trying to determine the exact cause of the fire, but say it's a clear case of arson.  The congregation is still dealing with the shock and wondering what the future holds.

Smoke poured from the windows late Tuesday night.  Investigators say the fire was started on purpose, in a side room next to the sanctuary.   Daylight revealed the damage; piles of soot line the outside of the building, while burn marks are visible inside.     

Jimmy Jones is the church's pastor.  He spent Wednesday morning talking to his congregation.

"They're just kind of shocked right now that somebody would do that to us and do it to our church," said Bowen Baptist Pastor Jimmy Jones.

Jones says the church was vandalized last week and investigators are looking to see if the two incidents are connected.  While they're certain it was arson, investigators don't believe the fire had anything to do with the church's faith.                

"We don't really feel like they are targeting this church," said Tulsa Fire Investigator Mike Bailey.

The church building has been at the corner of Independence and Rockford dating to 1940.  Early on, it was called Hillcrest Baptist.

 "It's sad, really sad," said Tulsan Dan Taylor.

He was baptized at the church in 1952.  Taylor says the building is full of memories.    

"My mother was Rosie Riveter and Dad was in the Pacific in World War II.  And, this was our sanctuary back then," said Tulsan Dan Taylor.

At one point the church was home to the largest Native American congregation in Tulsa.

"Didn't destroy us.  It's just a building so we'll continue on," said Pastor Jimmy Jones.

Pastor Jones says 25 Native American families still worship at Bowen Baptist Church and despite the damage to their church, there are no hard feelings and the congregation is ready to forgive.

"If somebody's targeting us, well, we don't hold no grudge against you. Just come see us in a different way, come to church and join us," said Pastor Jimmy Jones.

The Tulsa Fire Department is asking anyone with information to call the arson hotline at 596-ARSN.