Authorities charged A 35-year-old black St. Louis man with arson following fires at two predominantly African-American churches earlier this month and federal investigators said they no longer believe the incidents were a hate crime. David Lopez Jackson was charged Friday in St. Louis Circuit Court with two counts of second-degree arson in the Oct. 17 fires at Ebenezer Lutheran Church and New Life Missionary Baptist Church. The blazes were among seven in the St. Louis area between Oct. 8 and Oct. 22. Five were in St. Louis and two were in nearby Jennings, all within a few miles of each other. Five of the congregations are predominantly black, one is racially mixed, and one is mostly white.
The fires spurred a hate-crime investigation based on either racial or religious motives. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Thursday there is no indication a hate crime occurred. The region is still recovering from the events surrounding last year's police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, and a grand jury's subsequent decision not to charge the officer who shot him. Brown was black and unarmed when he was shot by white Darren Wilson in a case that helped spur the national "Black Lives Matter" movement, and it renewed concern about the treatment of minorities in the St. Louis region. (Read more arson stories.)