Three churches on the same road in Maryland, just outside Washington, DC, were vandalized over the weekend, and authorities are investigating arson fires started at two of the churches.
“These churches are within a few miles of each other,” said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department. “We can’t say conclusively at this time that they’re connected, but they’re all very similar.”
Around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, a fire was started at North Bethesda United Methodist Church on Old Georgetown Rd. in Bethesda, Md., Piringer told CNN, but damage was minimal.
An investigator leaving the church grounds then discovered debris authorities suspected had come from the nearby Wildwood Baptist Church, Piringer said, including some damaged headstones and wooden materials on the road.
Wildwood Baptist was not burned down, but the material found appears to have been the result of vandalism, according to Piringer.
About 24 hours later, around 2 a.m. Sunday, the fire and rescue service was called to St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish located less than two miles from the other churches. First responders observed a fire in the church sanctuary, which damaged several pews but was quickly extinguished, Piringer said, adding that investigators believe the fire was started intentionally.
In remarks broadcast live on Sunday, the Reverend Samuel Giese informed Congregation St. Jane Frances de Chantal that their parish had been vandalized overnight. The YouTube video also contained footage from inside the church of the nighttime fire.
“People broke in, knocked down statues, demolished the stations of the cross, desecrated the tabernacle and tried to set fire to the church,” Giese said.
In a statement to CNN, the Wildwood Baptist Church said “damage to our church was limited to the desecration of the cemetery adjacent to the church. Our prayers and concern go out to those whose hearts are so vile. to attack churches and cemeteries.”
Authorities have not commented on a potential motive as part of the ongoing investigation.
CNN has reached out to Montgomery County Police, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish and North Bethesda United Methodist Church for comment.