Maryland church fires: Authorities investigate vandalism and possible arson at churches near Washington, DC


“These churches are within a few mile radius of each other,” said Pete Piringer, spokesperson for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. “We can’t conclusively say right now that they are connected, but they are all very similar.”

At around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, a fire was set at North Bethesda United Methodist Church on Old Georgetown Rd. in Bethesda, Maryland, Piringer told CNN, yet the damage was minimal.

An investigator leaving the church grounds then came across debris authorities suspect came from the nearby Wildwood Baptist Church, Piringer said, including a couple of damaged headstones and wood material on the road.

Wildwood Baptist was not set on fire, but the material found appeared to have been the result of vandalism, according to Piringer.

A spokesperson from North Bethesda United Methodist confirmed the building had damage caused by fire to the fellowship hall, kitchen and a hallway.

“We are saddened by these destructive acts, and we feel tinges of the heartache and fear that arise in communities of all types when a sacred space is desecrated. We cannot know the hurt of the person or people who vandalized churches in our neighborhood, and so we lift their hurt and our own hurt up to God,” Rev. Kara Scroggins, senior pastor of the church, said in a statement provided to CNN.

Wildwood Baptist Church

About 24 hours later, at approximately 2 a.m. Sunday, the fire and rescue service was called to St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish located less than two miles away from the other churches. First responders observed a fire in the church’s sanctuary, which damaged several pews but was quickly extinguished, Piringer said, adding investigators believe the fire was set intentionally.

In remarks livestreamed Sunday, Rev. Samuel Giese informed the St. Jane Frances de Chantal congregation their parish had been vandalized overnight. The video on YouTube also contained footage from inside the church of the overnight fire.

“People broke in, they overturned statues, tore down the stations of the cross, desecrated the tabernacle, and tried to set the church on fire,” Giese said.

In a statement to CNN, Wildwood Baptist Church said “the damage done to our church was limited to the desecration of the graveyard adjacent to the church. Our prayers and concern are for those whose hearts are so vile to attack churches and graveyards.”

Authorities did not comment on a potential motive amid the ongoing investigation.

CNN has reached out to Montgomery County police, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish and the North Bethesda United Methodist Church for comment.

CNN’s Daniel Allman contributed to this report.


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