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Church vandalized for 3rd time in 5 months

Pastor after attempted arson: 'They tear our buildings down, but we keep on'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Someone tried to set fire to Englewood Baptist Church on Sunday night -- the third time since Easter that the local church has been vandalized, authorities said.

Officials from the State Fire Marshal's office and at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were called in to investigate.

The church is on Kennerly Road, off University Boulevard, not far from Memorial Hospital Jacksonville. The first incident of vandalism happened at Easter, the second was about a month ago and the third was Sunday night.

Pastor Billy Jones said he's concerned because each time, the damage has been more extensive.

"We put 13 hard years in, and we've met a lot of good folks," Jones said. "But that one time (something like this happens), you just keep asking, 'Lord, how many more times can we do this?' They tear our fence down. They tear our buildings down, but we keep on."

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It's hard for Jones not to get emotional about the most recent act of vandalism at the church that he's led for the past 13 years.  Someone used a baseball bat and knocked out 12 windows in the Sunday school classrooms. Investigators said the vandals then poured gasoline in the grass outside the church and attempted to set it on fire.

"The fire never caught, but you could smell an accelerant of some kind -- it was really strong -- not only outside but inside the church," Jones said.

Jones said vandals first struck the church the night of Easter Sunday, breaking windows in the rear of the sanctuary. Four weeks ago, they threw metal objects through windows under an awning.

Jones said it's especially troubling because he opens up the church to the community on a daily basis.

"It is heartbreaking that we're having to spend money that we could spend for the community on keeping our buildings up," Jones said.

Neighbors said sadly it has become an all-too-familiar reality that no place, even a church, is considered sacred.

"We are a people without any fear of God, and it's not going to get better," neighbor Bill Bundy said. "That's the scary thing to me."

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said it's a good possibility that the same person is responsible for all three crimes because of the similarities in the vandalism. ATF agents analyzed an accelerant at the scene, and they are sending that and other physical evidence to a crime lab. 

Anyone with information about the attempted arson is asked to call 1-877-NO-ARSON or go to https://apps8.fldfs.com/arsonreporting.


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