JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Investigators are still working to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed a historic Black church in Orange Park.
While authorities continue their investigation into the fire, which was deemed suspicious, there’s an effort to rebuild.
For the last month, Deacon Lester Perry, the church administrator, said the congregation at the St. Simon Baptist Church in Orange Park has been meeting in a large tent on Sunday mornings -- just yards away from the burnt husk of the former building.
“It’s sad because of the time and years that we put into the church,” Perry said.
The fire started in the early morning hours of March 26. Arson, investigators say, has not been ruled out.
“The questions of who, why and for what reason you would burn a church,” Perry said.
A $5,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, investigators are waiting on lab results and have been interviewing anyone who had access to the building in the days leading up to the fire.
The church had been under significant renovations, with more than $200,000 invested. But church leaders didn’t take out a risk insurance policy, leaving the congregation struggling to rebuild.
“It’s disheartening to us but as members and believers in the faith, we forgive,” Perry said.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention.