One person watching while Southside Assembly of God Church was being destroyed by fire last week, had an idea as to the origination of the fire.

“This is the devil,” Cory Snow said.

Booneville Police Department Chief Rusty Lewis has an idea of a mortal or two who may know something about the fire, but as of Thursday he was still investigating.

Lewis said he learned from Booneville Fire Chief Mike Talley a loose gas line was discovered after the fire was extinguished, but that was only one of the reasons for labeling the fire as suspicious.

Talley said he checked all gas lines in the church and the rest were sufficiently tight.

Lewis and the BPD have taken to Facebook seeking information.

“The Booneville Police Department is currently seeking information into the structure fire at Southside Assembly of God Church. Any information will be kept strictly confidential. If you have any information please let us know,” a post accompanying a picture of firemen fighting the fire states.

The post also includes the BPD’s phone number of 675-3456.

Two men were in custody on an unrelated matter when a call was issued for firemen. Lewis said the pair was being investigated in connection with a break in at a vacant home about two blocks from the church, which is located at 690 South Broadway.

After word of the fire spread, a BPD dispatcher received a call from the parents of one of the men being held informing them there were some items in their home which did not belong there.

Lewis said those included amplifiers, a tambourine, bongo drums and four copies of the Holy Bible.

“Inside the tambourine there was a label of M. Mann,” said Lewis. “I was guessing the items came from the church.”

Lewis said he spoke with Manuel Mann, who is the pastor of the church, and has been since its inception, and Man recognized some of the items, but not others. Other congregants recognized many of the remaining items, the chief said.

However, Lewis said, he cannot be certain when the men in custody may have been in the church, if at all. That’s because they are not talking, as yet, other than to say they acquired the items in trade from individuals they have declined to name.

Given the status of the investigation, Lewis said he expects the company who holds a policy on the building to send an arson investigator to the scene, which on Thursday had caution tape around the area.

The church was less than a month away from celebrating the 35th anniversary of its first service when it was destroyed.

Mann, who founded the church in 1978, said he and his wife, Betty, who live next door to the sanctuary, had both run errands and his wife returned to their home shortly after 10 a.m. she noticed smoke coming from the sanctuary structure.

Betty Mann then called the fire department. Manuel Mann said he hurried home, arriving in time to see the windows explode.

Once insulation in the attic of the structure was ignited the fire spread quickly through the length of the sanctuary causing concern for the Mann’s home.

Portions of the block structure also collapsed causing the roof on the west side of the church to sag heavily and force firemen to attack the fire from the back portion of the church.

While the fire was being battled, neighbors and congregants assisted with the removal of items from a storage area in the back of the church, as well as a boat that was located behind the church.

About an hour after being called out to the fire the Booneville Fire Department, with assistance from the Booneville Rural Fire Department, had the fire largley under control.

While watching the fire destroy his church, Manuel Mann said he would anticipate rebuilding but he could not bet certain.

In addition to serving as the only pastor at the church, Mann was formerly the advertising manager with the Booneville Democrat, retiring from the paper in 2016.