INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Members of an Independence congregation are looking for a temporary place to worship after police say that someone deliberately set fire to their church.
Prosecutors have charged a 22-year-old Joseph Gazafy with arson in connection to the fire which severely damaged the Church of Jesus Christ Outreach Restoration Branch near Crysler and Linden around 1:45 a.m. on Friday morning.
According to police, Gazafy called police around an hour after the fire started to confess starting the blaze. Police say that Gazafy told detectives that he was in the mood for a midnight fire, and wanted to get his family’s attention.
In addition, police say that Gazafy told them, “I think I should be able to burn down a church if I want.”
“We’re just grateful no one was injured and our hearts go out the congregation and the pastor,” said Tom Gentry of the Independence Police Department. “It’s a traumatic thing for anyone.”
Police say that Gazafy broke out a window and used gasoline to start the fire in the church’s basement. Assistant Pastor Robert Bobbitt says that there’s extensive soot and smoke damage throughout the building.
“People come together when something like this happens,” said Bobbitt. “The neighborhood comes together. Churches come together, the community pitches in and I think good things are going to happen.”
According to the church, the congregation of 150 members had just finished paying off the loan on the building, which Bobbitt says is about 12 years old. The church is insured, but making extensive repairs may cause a hardship for the small membership.
Bobbitt says that the most immediate concern for church members is finding another place to worship this Sunday. He says that they have already received a number of offers from neighboring congregations.
Despite the damage and hardship, Bobbitt says that they don’t blame Gazafy, who he describes as a troubled soul.
“Oh, definitely we forgive him,” said Bobbitt. “We want him to recover, we want him to get better and we pray for him.”