Someone broke into a predominantly black church in south Kansas City early Sunday morning, starting a small fire and leaving the front doors and windows defaced with racist graffiti, according to law enforcement officials.
Members of Concord Fortress of Hope Church arrived in the morning to see the spray-painted graffiti, which included an ethnic slur directed at black people, the letters “KKK” and what appeared to be an attempt at making a swastika.
Inside the church, police found that someone had entered the building, broke into a vending machine and the church’s financial office, and lit a chair on fire.
The fire caused minimal damage before being extinguished by the building’s sprinkler system, according to John Ham, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
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The ATF, which has jurisdiction over fires at houses of worship, is investigating the fire along with the Kansas City Police Department’s bomb and arson unit and investigators with the Kansas City Fire Department.
Kansas City Councilman Quinton Lucas tweeted out two photos of the graffiti, writing “Fools think they’re gonna keep us from worshiping this morning.”
Lucas also tweeted out a photo of the services saying, “Racist Vandals and arsonists not slowing down 8 a.m. service @concordhope church.”
Kansas City police were called to the church shortly before 7 a.m. Federal investigators think the break-in occurred between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. and that whoever committed the break-in also made the graffiti.
If the investigation shows that the vandalism of the church was a hate crime, the FBI will get involved, said Ham, the ATF spokesman. But, he said, the hate crime designation depends on the motive and the true motive behind the damage to the church is unclear.
The fire was very small and did not appear likely to cause much damage, Ham said. Investigators suspect the incident began as a break-in, and the fire could have been meant to cover that up.
“To our fire investigators that are on the scene, it looks to us like a fire that somebody started sort of with what they had available to cover up perhaps the break-in,” Ham said. “It did not really have much to work with from a fire perspective. The sprinkler system in the office where it was set did its job, knocked the fire out very, very quickly.”
More damage was caused by water from the sprinkler system.
Fires at places of worship happen less frequently than they used to, Ham said, but have historically posed a potent threat because churches are often the focal point of a community.
“An attack on a church or an attack on a congregation is really an attack on everyone,” Ham said.
Investigators have not identified any suspects and are hoping to find surveillance video that could help. However, it’s unclear if all the security cameras in the church were working properly at the time of the break-in.
The ATF is offering a $5,000 reward for information about the incident. Anyone with information can call the ATF at 1-888-283-3473.
Concord Fortress of Hope Church is at 11050 Longview Parkway.
“It’s kind of a remote area, so if you were driving by early this morning or late last night and you saw something happening here, it probably wasn’t supposed to be,” Ham said. “Every little piece of information helps us.”
In a phone interview later, Councilman Lucas said he saw the graffiti as he arrived to attend services Sunday.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s a little disappointing to see something liked that in 2017. Folks should be able to come and worship without that sort of concern,” Lucas said. “We’ll keep praying and stay hopeful that this is the last time we have to see something like this with this church and that nobody else has to deal with it.”
Lucas said Pastor Ronald Lindsay said it well during the service when he told church members that they were not letting something negative define them.
“It ended up being an absolutely beautiful service,” Lucas said. “It reminded us how God exists in chaos and how we will basically continue on with the mission of the church.”
The church was founded in February 1987 when the Palestine Missionary Baptist Church of Jesus Christ voted for Concord Missionary Baptist Church of Jesus Christ to become an official organized church. The Rev. Ronald R. Lindsay was installed as the pastor, according to the church’s website.
After beginning at the YMCA at 63rd Street and Wornall Road, the church moved south to 107th Street in the Ruskin/Hickman Mills area. In 2006, the growing congregation moved to its current location.