Gulfport church fire suspect in custody, charged with arson
GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A Gulfport man is in custody in connection with a church fire early Saturday morning.
Caleb Deandre Bell, 22, was arrested and charged with arson and burglary of Hillside Baptist Church on Robinson Road.
Bell reportedly forced his way into the Gulfport building through a side door. Once inside, Bell allegedly removed church property before starting a fire in the sanctuary around 8 a.m.
According to Gulfport Fire Chief Michael Beyerstadt, crews arrived to find heavy smoke and a burglar alarm going off at the church. Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the flames in the building, however, the inside of the building received significant smoke damage.
The suspect, who called officials to report the fire, stayed on the scene and was taken into custody without incident.
The church's senior pastor, Dr. Travis Anderson, says the entire interior of the church is ruined.
"We don't have anything," a dismayed Dr. Anderson said. "Everything is burned up, instruments and pews and everything. It's totaled, done. Everything inside is gone."
Anderson is raising money online to rebuild the church.
After booking, Bell was taken to the Harrison County Adult Detention Facility and held with no bond.
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