Sunday, April 22, 2007

Suspicious Fire Heavily Damages Whitley Memorial Church

The cause of a fire that heavily damaged Whitley Memorial United Methodist Church on Wilson ’s Mills Road Sunday morning remains under investigation. Smithfield Fire Chief Patrick Harris said the blaze was reported at 8:49am. Harris said the fire began in the vicinity of the office, and then spread throughout the church. Crews had the fire fully contained in about 45 minutes, but not before it did major damage. Selma and Wilson ’s Mills fire crews and apparatus responded to assist the Smithfield Fire Department with the blaze. Smithfield Police and the Smithfield Fire Marshal are both trying to pinpoint the cause. A break-in was discovered at Dunn’s Convenient Mart, just a few yards away from the church, minutes before the fire was phoned into 911. Officials don’t know if the two incidents might be connected. The suspect in the convenience store burglary, Alvin Parrish, was arrested following a brief foot chase WRAL reported Sunday night. At least three other people are wanted for questioning in the investigation. Parrish has not been charged in the church fire. The Smithfield First Baptist Church ended worship services early to allow their congregation to travel to Whitley Memorial to surround the members of the burned church and uplift them in prayer. First Baptist Church Pastor Lee Colbert has offered members of Whitley Memorial the use of their fellowship hall to hold services until their church can be rebuilt.


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