Mississippi church destroyed by arson was suing city over safer-at-home order

Updated: May. 20, 2020 at 5:47 PM CDT
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HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. (WMC) - A Mississippi church at the center of an arson investigation is the same church currently in a battle with city leaders over a COVID-19 safer-at-home order.

First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs was destroyed by what investigators believe is an arsonist.

Investigators found graffiti on pavement in the church parking lot that reads, “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits (sic)."

Jerry Waldrop has pastored the church for 31 years.

“We’ve tacked our brains and we have no idea,” Waldrop said. “No enemies that we know of. We don’t know anyone that we even think could be capable of doing something like this.”

The fire comes after Waldrop filed a lawsuit in April against the City of Holly Springs. The 14-page document claims local police officers disrupted a mid-week bible study and the church’s Easter service 10 days prior.

According to the complaint, the pastor held outdoor services when possible but would hold them indoors while practicing social distancing during inclement weather.

The complaint also asked for a temporary restraining order to keep the City from preventing services inside the church building.

The issue stems from Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ inclusion of churches with essential businesses in the state’s safer-at-home order, but the City of Holly Springs did not.

“It is very clear local municipalities can have guidelines that are more strict than the governor’s guidelines, but they cannot have guidelines that directly conflict with what we have put in place,” Reeves said at a news conference Wednesday.

Holly Springs City Attorney Shirley Byers says they ity did not consider churches essential business in the safer-at-home order issued March 23 but amended the order April 24 to allow churches to hold drive-thru services.

Byers said in an incident April 10 about 35 to 40 congregants were inside the First Pentecostal Church and were not practicing social distancing, which is what led to a citation for violating the local emergency order.

She says although the complaint has been filed, it has not officially been served, meaning they can’t move forward at this point.

Waldrop would not comment on the lawsuit but says he is focused on rebuilding.

“We have a tight group that’s been faithful, so whatever means is necessary that’s what we’ll do," said Waldrop.

Investigators are offering a substantial reward for tips leading to an arrest. The fire remains under investigation.

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