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Investigators seek ‘person of interest’ in arson at east Memphis church

Published: May. 16, 2022 at 5:39 PM CDT|Updated: May. 17, 2022 at 5:45 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Investigators are searching for a person of interest in connection to a fire that destroyed part of an east Memphis church.

For decades Elliston Baptist Church has been a pillar in its community.

But in recent years, the church has become a target for criminals.

John Bomar is the church pastor.

“One of the deacons had to seal up some bullet holes in our gym a few years past,” said Bomar. “They tell me over there they hear gunfire almost every night.”

He says while the church has experienced some problems with crime, its never been anything like this.

The fire broke out at the building located behind the church Friday night.

It took mere minutes for flames to sweep through the building and destroy everything inside.

“Every bit of it, from one end to the other, side to side,” said Bomar.

The Memphis Fire Department says it appears the fire was deliberately set.

According to the city’s data hub, since the beginning of the year fire officials have investigated 119 arsons, mostly in north Memphis.

In east Memphis, investigators released images taken from a surveillance camera behind the main church building. The photos show a man walking.

Investigators call him a person of interest and say he goes by “Johnny.”

Church members say they are familiar with him.

“Well, he was a homeless guy, and he had been around there for several weeks,” said Bomar. “Sometimes I’d go in on Sunday morning, and he’d be lying by my office door outside.”

Investigators have not said why the arsonist targeted the building, which the pastor says has not been used in years.

Church members say they are thankful no one was hurt and that the fire didn’t spread to the main building.

“We would have been in trouble if that had happened,” said Bomar.

The pastor says the building the fire destroyed was recently sold to another church nearby.

Investigators ask anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers at 901-528-CASH.

You can also call the State Arson Hotline at 1-800-762-3017.

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