By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Church fire ruled arson
Travis Holcomb - photo by Herald File
    Bulloch County Sheriff's deputies arrested a Statesboro teen Tuesday after finding evidence he set an 114-year-old church on fire.
     Emit Grove Baptist Church was severely damaged, with only "the office area and new social hall" saved from the blaze, said Statesboro Fire Capt. Larry Colbert.
    Travis Jay Holcomb, 17, Ga. 67, was charged with burglary and arson after investigators found items taken from the church as well as clothing that smelled of fuel, said Bulloch County Sheriff Lynn Anderson.
    The fire was discovered around 3:45 a.m. Tuesday when Bulloch County Sheriff's Deputy Travis Tuenge "observed the glow of a fire southeast of Statesboro," he said. "As he reached the area, "he realized the Emit Grove Baptist Church was on fire" and called for firefighters.
    The Statesboro Fire Department responded, as well as firefighters from the Stilson, Bay, Nevils and Brooklet fire departments, Colbert said.
    While firefighters battled the blaze, a deputy discovered "some property" in a nearby field. Then deputies noticed a bystander gathered to watch the fire who "was taking a great deal of interest in what they were doing," Anderson said.
    One of the deputies recognized the bystander as Holcomb, whom he knew, and began talking to him, he said. "Deputies became suspicious ... (and) eventually ended up at (Holcomb's) home where they recovered several items of property apparently stolen from the church. Clothing with the smell of either kerosene or diesel fuel was also recovered from the home."
    The investigation was turned over to the state fire marshal, and evidence led to Holcomb's arrest and the ruling that the fire was arson, according to Georgia Insurance and Fire Commissioner John W. Oxendine
    “It’s such a senseless tragedy for a community to lose a grand old church in this manner,” he said.
    The church was established in 1892, said church records keeper Jeanette Turner. "It was one of the oldest churches in Bulloch County."
    The Emit Grove Baptist Church has a congregation of about 150 to 175, she said.
    The sanctuary collapsed due to fire damage, Oxendine said.
    "Most of the church was destroyed," Colbert said. "It was fully engulfed when we got there."
    The new Family Life Center, recently completed and dedicated last summer, was separate from the original church building and was not damaged, Turner said. But the new addition to the century--old church, as well as the original structure, " was gutted and smoke damaged," she said.
    Pastor Tim Huffingham said the church will definitely rebuild. Church officials plan to meet with insurance adjusters today, he said. "We have to realize everything is in God's will and God's purpose ... God has plans for us and we're not at all discouraged.
    "I'm saddened for the people ... but I am confident God is going to lead us forward," he said.
    Three investigators from the state arson unit, as well as an arson dog,  assisted deputies and firefighters in the investigation, Oxendine said.
    Holcomb, who is scheduled for an arraignment hearing today before Bulloch County Superior Court Judge F. Gates Peed on previous felony charges of aggravated child molestation and aggravated sodomy, was taken to the Bulloch County Jail where he is held without bond, Anderson said. "Additional charges are pending."
Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter