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St. Louis police step up patrols after spate of church fires

Investigators are trying to determine whether the arsonist or suspects are targeting religion, race or both

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis police are stepping up patrols and trying to develop profiles of possible suspects in a spate of fires that have damaged six churches in largely black neighborhoods during the past two weeks, the city’s police chief said.

Sam Dotson also told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Tuesday that the churches damaged during the suspicious fires Oct. 8 through Oct. 18 vary denominationally and are within a few miles of each other.

Four are on St. Louis’ north side, and two are in nearby Jennings.

Dotson’s comments came the same day the reward for information leading to an arrest doubled to $4,000.

Five of the churches are predominantly black, and one is racially mixed. In each case, the front doors were set on fire, leaving damage that ranged from virtually nothing at one church to the near destruction of another.

St. Louis and federal authorities, including the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are investigating, trying to determine whether the arsonist or suspects are targeting religion, race or both. St. Louis Fire Capt. Garon Mosby has said the possibility that the fires could be hate crimes — for religious or racial reasons — “is part of the dynamic” of the investigation.

The area is still reeling from the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown last year by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and a grand jury’s subsequent decision not to charge Wilson. Brown, who was black, was unarmed when he was shot by Wilson, who is white, in a case that spawned the national “Black Lives Matter” movement scrutinizing police treatment of minorities.

The Associated Press left messages seeking comment from St. Louis police Wednesday.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press