ST. LOUIS (CN) – As flames were extinguished Thursday at the seventh church in black neighborhoods in and around St. Louis, Missouri asked for federal help to track down the arsonist.
The arson fires began on Oct. 8. The first six were at predominantly black churches in northwest St. Louis city and north St. Louis County. The Thursday fire was at the historic Shrine of St. Joseph, on the opposite side of the city, which is mostly attended by white people, but in a black neighborhood.
All of the fires consisted of a small blaze set outside of exterior doors. Police are working with federal agents, but have no suspects.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster on Thursday asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Koster said that no motive is known, but the fires appear to be hate crimes.
“The first six of the seven fires occurred at churches with predominantly African-American congregations, and the seventh was set at a church in a predominantly African-American neighborhood,” Koster wrote to Lynch . “Furthermore, the fires are transparently attacks on people of faith, targeting their most sacred places. Hate crimes can never be tolerated, but the damage inflicted by such crimes is especially acute in the greater St. Louis area, which is still recovering from the events in Ferguson last year.”
Koster also thanked Lynch for the federal help local authorities have already received.
The fire at the Shrine of St. Joseph charred the bottom of the doors where it was set but did not spread.
The church dates back to the 1840s and was the site of a Vatican-authenticated miracle in 1864 when Jesuit Missionary Peter Claver healed a man thought to be on his deathbed with tuberculosis. It is the only Vatican-confirmed miracle ever to happen in the Midwest.
A 79-year-old priest was murdered at the church in 1979.
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