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Arrests Made in Alabama Church Burnings

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

New developments this morning in the investigation into a series of church burnings in rural Alabama. Federal officials say two young men have been arrested, a third man is being sought. NPR's Kathy Lohr has been following this story, and joins us now. And Kathy, what can you tell us about these two arrests?

KATHY LOHR reporting:

Well, we know that a criminal complaint was signed today against two men: a Ben Mosley, and a Russell DeBusk. And we know that they're making their initial appearance in court now in Alabama, in a Judge Robert Armstrong's courtroom in Birmingham. We still don't know a motive, and we still don't know the charges.

MONTAGNE: And this investagation has been a top priorirty for the state--also local, and also federal officials. Talk to us about the investigation.

LOHR: The investigation has been ongoing for a little over a month now. The churches began burning, and then the federal, state, and local authorities began moving in, bringing in more than a hundred officers at one point, and bringing the evidence back to, actually, laboratories in Atlanta to look over the evidence, and to try find those responsible. As you said, they're looking for another person, a suspect involved in these church burnings.

MONTAGNE: And you've said they don't know a motive yet, but the motive was, of course, a key to this story, and why there was so much concern and so much publicity about it. Churches burned, ten in all. Tell us about the churches, and any patterns there might be.

LOHR: Well, there are at least nine churches that were burned that are considered arson in this crime. One other, a tenth church that was arson, that is not considered part of this crime. Five were burned near Birmingham, and four others in the rural part of the state near Mississippi, near the Mississippi border. These are all Baptist churches. Many of these fires began in the pulpits.

Now, these are both black and white congregations. Now, the sheriff said that, while the churches were in rural areas, the suspects may have known the churches, because some of these weren't that easy to get to. These were down isolated roads, some of these, they were done in the middle of the night, or in early hours of the morning. So, the implication is that some of the persons that were responsible may have either known the area, or have been familiar, at least, with the churches prior to the attacks.

MONTAGNE: And you have visited some of the communities affected. What has been the impact there in these rural areas of the church burnings?

LOHR: Well, obviously, there's a combination of fear, and I think some determination. There is some real fear in these small communities that people knew one another, and who would do this? You know, who would be responsible for burning a church? That, any type of person who would do that would do just about any type of crime. And then, again, the determination to stop this kind of thing, and to keep people from doing it in the future, and to come together and rebuild these churches. To talk one another, and find the people responsible.

MONTAGNE: Right, because these churches were the center of the community in these places, some of them.

LOHR: Most of them are. There are not a lot of places to go to come together, and to come on in the middle of the week, and to get together for these communities to plan and to have other activities, in addition to the church services.

MONTAGNE: Kathy, thank you very much. That's NPR's Kathy Lohr. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kathy Lohr
Whether covering the manhunt and eventual capture of Eric Robert Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina, the remnants of the Oklahoma City federal building with its twisted metal frame and shattered glass, flood-ravaged Midwestern communities, or the terrorist bombings across the country, including the blast that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, correspondent Kathy Lohr has been at the heart of stories all across the nation.