Arson Suspected in Tallahassee Church Fire

Flames roared through a Tallahassee church Thursday night, completely destroying the sanctuary.

A church was gutted by fire. A fire that authorities say was no accident.

Smoke softly billows beneath the steeple at the Church of the Holy Spirit, its sanctuary filled with charred beams, chairs and debris.

Federal agents joined firefighters and deputies on the scene, removing debris, taking photographs, and checking burn patterns. They say someone broke into the church overnight, vandalized it, and set it ablaze.

"We're unsure of how it started but it doesn't matter at this point in the investigation because a criminal act was in progress when the fire apparently ignited."

This Episcopal Church has had its share of turmoil in the past year. After the selection of a gay bishop, the pastor and about two-thirds of the congregation left. Investigators will have to explore any possible link there.

"I would certainly think not. The division of this individual church over national church issues has been one that has been, not with a lot of rancor or fighting or whatever."

Damages are estimated at three-quarters of a million dollars, including an altar and stained glass windows crafted by church members themselves.

A special prayer service is just getting underway here. The priest tells me her sermon will be taken from the book of Nehemiah, who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

Federal agents are called in any time there's a suspicious church fire. That's in response to all the black church arsons of the 1990's. That's now standard protocol.

As for who set the fire? No suspects yet. It could be kids out for a night of mischief or someone with much more sinister intentions.

If you have any info, please call the Leon County Sheriff's Office at 922-3300.