A historic Black church in Jacksonville, Florida was destroyed in a fire on Thursday, and now investigators believed arson was involved.
According to local station WJAX, authorities say the fire was suspicious because St. Simon Baptist Church was empty at the time the fire broke out. Pastor’s assistant Elder Moyenda Ambakisye told the news station he and the Orange Park community is devastated.
“We were married here. As a matter of fact, my son was married here and I think I mentioned earlier, I baptized my grandchildren after I was brought into the ministry,” Ambakisye said.
Multiple fire crews from Orange Park fire stations were called out to the church just before 11 p.m. on Thursday. Both the Bureau of Fire, Arson, and Explosives Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are involved in the investigation, WJAX reports.
Ambakisye said he’s been receiving support from the community and he’s grateful for it.
“For me, there’s no Black church, no white church, there’s no red church,” he said. “You either are the church or you’re not and she just showed me that the church and our God are real and that just empowers me to keep on going. I could just jump for joy.”
Church leaders say they plan to rebuild. A $5,000 reward being offered for more information about what happened.