Although it isn’t a church with a predominantly black congregation, the Shrine of St. Joseph is in a predominantly black neighborhood. And, with news of its burning by arson on Thursday morning, it is the seventh church in the St. Louis area to be set ablaze in a span of two weeks—leading many to believe that the arsons are not only linked, but motivated by racism.
The burning of the church, which CNN affiliates report has roots in the area’s German community and has a predominantly-white congregation, happened barely 12 hours after St. Louis law enforcement officials held a press conference and said they were investigating all of the fires as arson. St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson spoke to reporters on Thursday morning, saying that given the absence of surveilance cameras in the area, whoever committed the crime "did some research, scouted the area out and knew that they could get in and get out without possibly being seen."
Despite the evidence suggesting racial bias (at least five of the churches were confirmed as having predominantly-black congregations, while all the fires were in close proximinty to Ferguson), investigators are not officially categorizing the arsons as hate crimes. Says St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson about possible motivations: "It can be somebody who has got a beef against the church, or somebody who might have had some mental issues. It runs the gamut [and we may not know] until we actually catch the person or persons."