Hate Crime Unit Investigating Bronx Church Fire

NY 1 - December 10, 2009

by Natasha Ghoneim

A suspicious church fire in the Parkchester section of the Bronx is being investigated as a possible hate crime. The two-alarm blaze broke out around 4 a.m. Wednesday, damaging the Glory of Christ Church which is located at 2137 Ellis Avenue.

Three firefighters were injured while trying to bring the flames under control.

According to the church's pastor, chairs were pushed together on the first floor to create the bonfire.

Investigators say the church walls were also tagged with graffiti including the phrase "Get off our block," satanic symbols and possible gang references.

"The messages of hate are so violent. It's hard to wrap your mind around the animosity of the people who did this," said Pastor Raymond Talavara.

"Very sad. First of all we're all surprised because we really have no conflicts, no strife with anybody in the community," said parishioner David Millan. "On the contrary, we consider ourselves a church that goes beyond the four walls. We're active, we do a soup kitchen, we reach out."

Even though nothing was stolen, parishioners say the church's loss in damages will affect the needy near and far.

"We've reached out to Africa, to Guatemala to the community. We have a soup kitchen and we give clothing," said parishioner Jackie Perez.

While the congregation may have temporarily lost its spiritual home, church leaders say it isn't going to halt their mission.

"We're not going to be driven away from this block. We're going to regroup, we're going to move forward and we're going to do bigger and better things by god's grace in the days to come," Talavara said.

Officials are still investigating the cause of the fire.