Okay Church Fire
OKAY, Okla. - The destruction of a 100-year-old church in the Wagoner County community of Okay is being called an act of arson and a potential hate crime.
Authorities believe Okay United Methodist Church was intentionally set on fire late Saturday night just before midnight.
"The information we're getting from outside sources, we believe it to be arson," said Capt. Jake Kelley with the Wagoner County Sheriff's Office.
There are no suspects at this time but deputies are still interviewing witnesses and examining evidence.
Investigators say vandals recently targeted the church and left an anti-religious message on the building.
Deputies say the arson could also be classified as a hate crime if the same person or persons is responsible for the building's previous vandalism.
"If we develop a lead that turns saying it is a hate crime, then we'll investigate it as such," said Kelley.
Kelley said the FBI has been notified in the event investigators determine the arson was a hate crime.
"They've requested we keep them up to date on what we're doing," said Kelley.
Stephanie Crogan, the church's pastor, said her congregation is devastated, but getting each other through.
"They're a really strong congregation. They care deeply for their church," said Crogan.
Crogan, who has been the church pastor for about three months, says they will hold services outside underneath a gazebo located on the property.
"The congregation is not a building, it's the people and we will move forward and we will rebuild and continue to worship," said Crogan.
Crogan did not want to comment on the recent vandalism until investigators have finalized their report.
Some residents wonder if the church vandalism and fire are connected to a recent crime at the town's schools.
Nearly two weeks ago, Okay Public Schools was the target of vandals, who caused about $16,000 in damage before the new school year started.
RELATED: Vandals target Okay Public Schools (http://bit.ly/1dmLzNc)
Superintendent Charles McMahan said the district lost computers and projectors and even the baseball field was damaged.
Kelley said investigators have not been able to determine whether all of the incidents are connected to one another.