Somebody set a fire that heavily damaged an African-American church that was also spray-painted with the phrase "Vote Trump," and an $11,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the conviction of whoever did it, a Mississippi fire chief says. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation of the Tuesday night fire at the 200-member Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, where Mayor Errick Simmons calls the fire and graffiti a hate crime, the AP reports. The mayor says the FBI and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are assisting the investigation in the Mississippi River city, where almost 80% of the 32,100 residents are African American.
The church's beige brick walls still stand, but the pulpit and pews are burned black, and soot stains the brick above and next to some windows. Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. estimates that it was "80% destroyed." "It definitely will have to be reconstructed from front to back," he says, calling the arson a "heinous, hateful, cowardly act." State FBI spokesman Brett Car says the agency is "working with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed." He declined to comment on whether it is being investigated as a possible hate crime, saying it is too early in the investigation "to determine what type of crime this could be." (Read more Mississippi stories.)