Mississippi Election Day fires investigated as possible arson

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By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – An arson investigation was underway Tuesday after seven fires broke out overnight at two churches, a gas station and four other buildings near Jackson State University in Mississippi, officials told local media.

Video footage showed the worst of the seven fires near the historically black college, which left Epiphany Church in ruins. There were no reports of injuries, TBEN affiliate WAPT reported.

The Jackson Fire Department began receiving calls around 2:45 a.m., Assistant Chief Patrick Armon told WAPT. The Jackson Fire Department did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

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All the fires were extinguished early Tuesday morning, hours before polling stations opened in Mississippi and other states, with voters casting their votes for congressional seats and other public office.

It was unclear whether the fires were related to the election, which is taking place in a year when officials have warned of the potential for violence and intimidation of candidates and voters.

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The NAACP civil rights group posted a photo of a burning Epiphany church with a message that read, “We are actively monitoring the situation. No harassment. No distraction. Go vote.”

The NAACP did not immediately respond to calls from Reuters.

Shuwaski Young, a Democratic candidate for the congressional district that includes Jackson, called the fires “cowardly actions.”

“Several churches in Jackson Mississippi were set on fire this morning on Election Day,” he said in a statement.

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“These cowardly actions invoke historic acts of terrorism as people fight for their right to vote and live peacefully as Americans and Mississippians. We will not be deterred or intimidated.”

Despite the fires, all polling stations were open, reports 16 WAPT News.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Rosalba O’Brien)