Berkeley church vandalized, Masonic lodge catches fire nearby

Bethlehem Baptist Church

By Nikki

ALVIN, S.C. (WCIV) Authorities say a church that sits on Highway 45 in the Alvin community was vandalized on Friday evening while a building across the street went up in flames.

They say both happened around the same time. The Berkeley County Sheriff's Office is investigating the two cases.

More than 30 firefighters with five different agencies rushed to put the flames out of the Laurel Hill Mason Lodge in the Alvin community around 6 p.m.

"When we got here the fire was already burning through the door, through the roof," said Chief Peter Prioleau with the Alvin Rural Fire Department.

It took firefighters about 30 minutes to put the flames out, but the damage is still extensive on the inside.

"We don't know what was taken out of there; it's been pretty badly burned," said Prioleau. "Right now, it's suspicious in nature. We'll be investigating."

As firefighters dealt with the Masonic lodge, Berkeley County deputies tended to the Bethlehem Baptist Church next door.

"We do have alarm systems on the church, and I don't see why they would do it," said Ervin Brown, a longtime member of the church.

Brown says he arrived on the scene to find one of the church's windows busted out.

"We heard that these things happen in different places, but I never thought it would happen at home like this," said Brown.

One witness says he called 911 after he saw two teens lurking around both buildings.

"They looked like they were skateboarding, running back and forth. Then I saw them later in the cemetery," said Kenneth Beaufort who lives next door to the church.

A little later he heard his neighbor scream the word fire.

"Then I saw the two guys running away going down the road," said Beaufort. "She told me that they were beating on the window of the church."

As deputies investigate, neighbors are left wondering if someone meant to intentionally harm them.

"It's scary to know that this would happen in your community, a quiet community like this," said Beaufort.

Neighbors say many of the members of the church are also members of the lodge.

"I don't know whether it was jealousy or what caused it -- I really don't know," said Brown.

Prioleau says an arson investigator will examine the scene Saturday to try and determine the official cause.

If you have any information on the case, you're urged to call the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office.