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Police suggest cross burnings at Sylmar church was not hate crime


Fire officials confirm accelerant was used

The burning of three crosses outside a Sylmar church is not believed to be connected to any other arson cases or hate crimes, Los Angeles police said late last week as they again asked anyone with information to come forward.

The Los Angeles Fire Department initially responded at 5 a.m. July 6 to a report of a rubbish fire outside the Sylmar Christian Fellowship Church at 13901 Polk St. But when crews arrived, they found only the smoldering wood crosses, one of which had toppled over, according to the LAFD.

Fire officials said the crosses appeared to have been doused in lighter fluid and set on fire. No injuries were reported.

As is standard protocol for fires involving churches, the House of Worship Task Force was notified and began an investigation. That task force includes the Los Angeles police and fire departments, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI.

In a statement on July 7, Los Angeles police said LAFD arson investigators “confirmed an accelerant was used to commit the arson. Extensive investigative efforts were conducted at the scene following this incident and the investigation is ongoing. At this point, there is no indication that this Arson Hate-Crime is related to any arson or hate crime series.”

Anyone with additional information was asked to call Detective Allen at (213) 486-6270, or during non-business hours, (877) LAPD-24-7 (877-527-3247). Anonymous tips can be made through Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or

Church Pastor Pierre Howard told reporters on July 6 he was not convinced the fire was a hate crime. He said it may have been done by someone who just made a bad decision.

“It’s a multi-racial congregation that we have, so there should be no issue,” Howard said. “We have no issue. And I think it’s ... someone at a bad moment in time made a bad decision. I hope that’s what it is.”

He added, however, “It’s a shame that people still want to do things like this.”

He said the church serves an array of different communities, including Latino and Black congregants, and it has never had any previous issues during its nearly 30 years of existence.

The church has video security, but Howard said the footage was not providing much help identifying any suspects.

The pastor said he plans to put the crosses back in place outside the church.

Mayor Karen Bass issued a statement on July 7 condemning the arson.

“Whether it’s determined to be a hate crime or not, what happened in Sylmar early yesterday morning ... invokes a painful history of despicable acts used to terrorize Black people in this country for centuries,” she said. “Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in hate crimes across this country, especially when it comes to acts against African-Americans, and it is possible that this incident is a part of that alarming trend.

“... I spoke with Pastor Pierre Howard yesterday to convey that we will be working with the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure that the individual or individuals responsible for this act are caught and held accountable. My thoughts are with the congregation of Sylmar Christian Fellowship Church as we continue to chart our path forward, together.”