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September 7, 2012

Man confesses to setting gay-friendly church on fire

South Bloomingville, Ohio--The mystery of an arson that destroyed a gay-friendly southern Ohio church on August 17 was solved when the arsonist implicated himself to police.

Donald L. Williams, 36, told police that he had been assaulted by someone involved with the church last year. According to Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North, Williams confessed to breaking a window with a rock, then reaching inside and lighting a curtain. The blaze destroyed the 158-year-old South Bloomingville Christian Church.

While North did not give details of the alleged year-old assault, he dismissed worries that the church was targeted because it is accommodating to the LGBT community.

Shortly after the early-morning fire, Rev. Scott Davis said he believed the fire had been set as an anti-LGBT hate crime, because his church is gay-friendly. He said he had received threats texted to him from several phone numbers. The person who texted him allegedly said they were a police officer and would shoot Davis and throw him in a ditch.

Williams was charged with arson on August 28. He had been picked up on a probation violation a week earlier, and is now being held on $500,000 bond.

Davis has said he will rebuild the church, which was insured for $300,000. He is just waiting for the insurance money to come through.

He purchased the building in 2010, then began holding services last year. It was the town’s sole remaining historic landmark, built in 1854 as a school, converted to a Methodist church, then used for storage since the late 1980s.

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, killing eight horses inside. There are still no leads in that case.

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