Reward Offered in Church Arson

It's enough to test their faith: two fires at a Ludowici church. The first fire nearly four years ago was an accident; yesterday's was not. Now police in Long County, Georgia, are looking for an arsonist and a motive.

Right now police say they know this fire was intentionally set. What they don't know is why.

At first glance, everything looks picture perfect at First Baptist Church on Highway 301, a $1.5 million this small town has been working on for the last three years.

But peer around the back and it is a rude awakening for the congregation. "Everyone was shocked," said Chief Darrell Ballance with the Long County Fire Department.

Not just shocked at the loss, but also wondering who would douse leftover lumber and insulation with gasoline.

Chief Ballance was one of the first to arrive at the church Saturday morning, not only as an investigator, but as a member of the congregation. "When you find out it was intentionally set, it's shocking and unreal that someone would have that much hate against anybody in the place of worship," he said.

This isn't the first time members of this congregation have gone through a spiritual setback. In 2001, their first place of sanctuary also caught on fire, burning to the ground.

"It just so happened the heater had a defect and set the church on fire," said Chief Ballance. "No suspicious arson at that time."

Ballance says that act of God is what led the congregation to build this bigger and better place of worship. Now he says he will pray for justice. "Find out who it is and hope the Lord speaks to them in a way that they know what they did was wrong," he said.

The GBI and state fire marshal are investigating the fire. They are also offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

If you have any information you are asked to call the Georgia arson hotline at 800.282.5804.

Reported by: Hena Daniels, hdaniels@wtoc.com