Fire at church ruled arson; reward set
By Times Staff Writer
Published May 5, 2005


VALRICO - An April 22 fire at St. Mark United Church has been ruled arson, according to a spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

Spokesman Ray Yeakley said he could not comment on details of the department's investigation of the fire at the church at 2914 Lithia Pinecrest Road, but a reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of a suspect.

The Rev. Dr. Garry Scheuer said he was concerned the arson could have been ideologically motivated.

The church's parent denomination, the United Church of Christ, has carried on a national advertising campaign promoting the church's liberal outlook and welcoming stance toward gays and lesbians, Scheuer said.

Scheuer said the church had hung a banner from that campaign on the shed which was burned. The banner read, "God is still speaking."

Scheuer said when the fire was subdued, the banner was found slashed to pieces on the ground.

"If someone had just set fire to the building, that would be one thing," he said. "But the fact that the banner was slashed back and forth multiple times ... leads me to believe that someone was determined to take down the sign and what it stood for."