A 22-year-old Gulfport man was arrested on arson and burglary charges Saturday after police responded to a fire at Hillside Baptist Church.
Fire Chief Michael Beyerstedt said the fire, which caused extensive smoke damage inside the sanctuary, was started deliberately.
“It looks as if someone broke into the church to steal some things and they started the fire as a way to cover up the break-in,” Beyerstedt said.
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Gulfport police Public Information Officer Josh Bromen said Caleb D. Bell entered the church through a side door, causing the security alarm to go off and notify police.
Police arrived about 8 a.m. and found Bell on the scene, and he was arrested without incident.
Bromen said Bell took church property before setting fire inside the sanctuary. Investigators determined the blaze was an arson after firefighters extinguished the flames.
Bell is being held at Harrison County jail on no bond set by Justice Court Judge Brandon Ladner.
Hillside Baptist pastor Travis Anderson said he was hopeful for his church.
“We want the best that God has to offer,” Anderson said. “No fire, no disaster is going to stop the work of God.”