Members devastated after arsonist torches church for 2nd time

Members devastated after arsonist torches church for 2nd time

SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) - For the second time in less than a year, church members are picking up the pieces of their sanctuary after firefighters confirmed it was torched by an arsonist.

Slidell Police said the fire started Saturday sometime before 7:30 a.m. at the Bayou Baptist Church off of Sullivan Road in Slidell. The church was also burned by an arsonist in October, according to St. Tammany Fire District 1.

Firefighters were able to quell the flames in about 15 minutes and quickly learned the building had no power because it was still under renovation from the previous fire.

"It's devastating," said Billy Gipson, a member of the church since 1958. "I don't see how somebody could be so cruel or mean to do something like this - especially a house of God."

Gipson said church members helped to bring the building back to life after Katrina, but two fires did a lot to dampen their spirits.

"It was terrible the first time, but this time, oh, it just broke my heart," said Gipson's wife, Nellie.

"It's numbing for something like this to take place, but you just don't know the rhyme and reason behind it. Of course, it was heartbreaking back in October when it first happened, now that we're in the rebuilding phase, just now starting, to have it happen again, kind of makes it more numbing," said longtime church member Clarence Powe.

Powe said the entire building will likely have to come down, which may be a silver lining, allowing the reconstruction process that was already underway to happen more quickly.

And while members will continue worshiping elsewhere, they say their hearts are in their church.

"This is not the church. The church continues on. This is just a building that we worship in, so we'll continue to be here, no matter what," Powe said.

The Slidell Police Department will get help from the ATF because the building is a church.

Crimestoppers is offering a $2,500 reward for information that could lead to an arrest. If you know something about the crime, call (504) 822-1111.

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