Three Birmingham, Al., college students charged in a spree of church burnings set the first two fires at rural Baptist churches “as a joke” and, thrilled by the sound of firetrucks, torched three more, say investigators quoted by the Birmingham News. Two students at Methodist-affiliated Birmingham-Southern College were arrested early yesterday; a third arrested student is from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The break for investigators came down to a set of tires on one student’s all terrain vehicle. Authorities ruled out the possibility of a hate crime or civil rights violations. “After they lit the first two fires, it became spontaneous. Excitement, thrill was the motive,” said Jim Cavanaugh of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, who headed an arson task force that included 250 federal, state and local investigators, said, “I certainly still feel hurt for all the churches that lost their historic buildings. I think I’m a little bit sad for the families of all these arrested today. I feel great for Alabama and I feel relieved for America.”