Three black historical churches have burned in less than two weeks in one south Louisiana parish. Officials said they had found “suspicious elements” in each case, and have not ruled out the possibility of arson, or the possibility that the fires are related.
“There is clearly something happening in this community,” State Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a statement on Thursday. “That is why it is imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.”
The three fires occurred in St. Landry Parish, north of Lafayette. A fourth fire, a small blaze that officials said was “intentionally set,” was reported on Sunday at a predominantly black church in Caddo Parish, about a three-hour drive north.
“But just as we haven’t connected the three in St. Landry, we haven’t connected the one in Caddo,” said Ashley Rodrigue, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal, on Friday.
Local officials said that they were still investigating the fires. They did not say if they knew of any suspects, a motive, or whether racism was an element.
“There certainly is a commonality, and whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know,” Mr. Browning said at a news conference on Thursday.
The F.B.I. and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are involved in the investigation, said Jeff Nowakowski, a spokesman for the A.T.F.’s New Orleans field division.
St. Landry Parish is a rural area in the heart of Cajun and Creole country. It is 56 percent white and 41 percent black. Mr. Toussaint said that relations were generally good between black and white residents.
Since the 1950s, black churches across the South have been the targets of numerous racist attacks, from arson to bombing to armed assault.
At the news conference Thursday, Sheriff Bobby Guidroz of St. Landry Parish said that law enforcement officials would do “whatever it takes” to protect churches and churchgoers.
“We’re doing everything we can, collectively, to solve this crime,” he said.