Bulloch County Church Burns to the Ground in Apparent Arson

17-year-old Travis Holcomb is being charged with burglary and arson.
17-year-old Travis Holcomb is being charged with burglary and arson.

As smoke billowed from the ashes of Emit Grove, Allison Waters could only cry. The 114-year-old church has been her spiritual home since she was 2.

"That's our lives in there," she said through tears. "That's our childhood, Vacation Bible School, Christmas plays. Church is about the people not the building. But there are a lot of memories made right there."

A sheriff's deputy spotted the flames around 3am this morning. Fire crews arrived within minutes. But it was too late.

"It's an old building made of heart pine, fat lighter wood, and it went up and kept burning. There was no putting it out," noted former pastor Hubert Tankersley.

By daylight, the sorrow turned to horror. The fire became a crime scene as investigators charged Travis Holcomb, 17, with arson. They say he set the fire to cover up a burglary.

Members can't begin to understand why someone would bring such hurt to a group that welcomed all. Church members like Gerald Biser feel violated.

"It's the same as somebody taking a member of the family," he said.

Church members say it's hard to get their minds around the idea that someone could do this. They say they've turned that over to a higher power.

"There is a calmness that God gives you to understand he's put you in this place for such a time as this," explained pastor Tim Huffingham. "The Bible says if we forgive little, we need to examine whether we ourselves have been forgiven."

Church members remain thankful they can hold services in their new building while they rebuild and that no one was hurt, including the person who took so much from them.

Holcomb remains in the Bulloch County jail. Investigators say the case is still open and more charges could follow.

Reported by Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com