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August 24, 2012

Arson fire destroys southern Ohio LGBT church

South Bloomingville, Ohio--Investigators say a fire that destroyed an historic church was set by an arsonist, and the pastor says he thinks it was because his church had LGBT parishioners.

Only the front entrance remains of the South Bloomingville Christian Church after the 3 am fire on August 17. Two volunteer fire companies fought the blaze. There were no injuries.

The Ohio fire marshal’s office has determined the cause to be arson. One witness reported seeing a man at the scene shortly before the fire started.

Bishop Scott Davis said he has received death threats in the past.

"It's because this is a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender church, and people around here don't agree with it," he told the Logan Daily News.

Davis bought the small, wooden church near Hocking Hills State Park two years ago, and opened it last year. About 30 people regularly attend services.

The structure--the town’s last historic landmark--was built in 1854 as a schoolhouse, then later converted to a Methodist church. When Davis bought it, the building had been little used for decades.

Davis says he plans to rebuild. Until he can do so, he will hold services on the back lawn.

“As soon as the money for the insurance comes through and this is all cleaned up, there will be a new church,” he noted.

A vigil was planned for Friday evening August 24, one week after the blaze.

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest. The incident is being investigated by the state fire marshal, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Hocking County sheriff's department and the Laurelville Fire Department.

South Bloomingville is about midway between Athens and Chillicothe. It is also about 40 miles southwest of McConnelsville, where a barn was sprayed with anti-gay graffiti last year, then set ablaze with eight horses inside. There are still no leads in that case.

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