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USA News

Suspect arrested in spate of fires including churches

by Reuters Journalist

A 23-year-old man in the US was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of setting seven buildings on fire early in the morning, including two churches, near Jackson State University in the capital of Mississippi.

Local news video footage showed the worst of the seven fires near the historically Black college had left Epiphany Church in ruins. There were no reports of injuries, ABC affiliate WAPT reported.

Although the blazes erupted on Election Day, "our first inclination is that this had nothing to do with elections," though the motive for the suspected arson remained unclear, said Patrick Armon, assistant chief of the Jackson Fire Department.

The suspect, identified by local media outlets as Devin McLaurin, was taken into custody by local sheriff's deputies and turned over to the Jackson Police Department, according to WLBT-TV, an NBC News affiliate in Jackson.

The station said the suspect professed his innocence as he was escorted into police headquarters.

"We believe from video surveillance and other information that we gathered that he's responsible for multiple structure fires here in the city," Police Chief James Davis said in an on-camera interview aired by WLBT.

Initially, the chief said, the suspect faced a single charge of felony malicious mischief in connection with one of the two church fires.

The Jackson Fire Department began receiving calls at around 2:30am, Armon told WAPT-TV, an ABC News affiliate.

All fires were extinguished by early morning, hours before polls opened in Mississippi and across the country for elections for state, federal and local offices. All polling places in Jackson were opened on schedule, WAPT reported.

The civil rights group NAACP posted a picture of the burning Epiphany Church with a message that read: "We are actively monitoring the situation. No intimidation. No distractions. Go vote."

The suspect taken into custody was Black.

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