Arson confirmed in two church fires

Union Hill CME Church in Chambers County
Union Hill CME Church in Chambers County
Liberty CME Church in Chambers County
Liberty CME Church in Chambers County
Pitts Chapel Church in Salem, Ala. (Interior damaged in fire)
Pitts Chapel Church in Salem, Ala. (Interior damaged in fire)

SALEM, AL (WSFA) -- Arson is now confirmed at at least two of the three churches that burned over the Valentine's Day weekend in east Alabama.

The Alabama State Fire Marshal's Office determined early Saturday morning fires at Union Hill CME Church and Liberty CME Church, both in rural Chambers County, were of "incendiary origin." Each structure was totally destroyed.

No suspects have been identified and no connection has been officially made between any of the fires says investigators.

A third church, the Pitts Chapel Church in Salem, burned later Saturday evening, destroying much of its interior space. Investigators suspect that church fire was the work of an arsonist as well. Members of the 111 year old church held Sunday services despite the damage and the graffiti painted walls.

"I hope they catch whoever's responsible, and we're praying for them, but we want to see them caught too," said church member Leigh Deshields.

Investigators say they don't see a connection between the Pitts Chapel fire and two other church fires, but they are definitely not ruling it out either.

Earlier Saturday morning both the Liberty CME Church and Union Hill CME Church in the Oak Bowery section of Chambers County were completely destroyed.

It's a sight Rev. Jimmy Carlisle and parishioners will never forget:  the skeletal remains of their historic church, Liberty CME Church, exposed for the first time since the 1860's. The building is even said to have played a role in the Underground Railroad before it became a church.

Local, state, and federal agencies combed the scenes for clues while churchgoers stood in shock.

"To come up and find our church in flames, it just [hurts]," said church member Dora Moss.

Authorities collected whatever evidence they could find to fuel a criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Carlisle wants answers. "Whoever did this, I pray to God that they will be brought to justice.  We want justice served and be done on whoever it was," Carlisle insisted.

It's still too early to tell how the churches burned and, if it was arson, who set the fires.

Parishioners say it will be tough, but they'll keep the faith.

"I know it will never be back the way it was, but the memories that are here will always be here for me," said church member Lula Harris.

Both the Union Hill CME and Liberty CME church buildings were insured. It was not immediately known if there was insurance on the Pitts Chapel Church.