Church burned on November 14.
About two months after a fire that gutted Southside Assembly of God Church on South Broadway, the rebuilding process has begun and church officials are now offering a reward in connection with the case.
Pastor Manuel Mann said last week he tired of awaiting an official ruling on the cause of the Nov. 14 fire, which was labeled as suspicious the day it occurred, and was given permission to remove the caution tape and get to work on starting the rebuild.
Though without an official arson designation Mann said last week the church is offering $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the fire.
Booneville Police Chief Rusty Lewis said he was advised to let the insurance company experts review the case rather than a state fire marshal or other state officer, but Mann said last week the insurance adjuster said doing that would have slowed payout of claim against the policy.
A gas line was found loose inside the church after the blaze was extinguished on Nov. 14, but Mann and his nephew, Michael Breedlove, who is overseeing the reconstruction project, believes an accelerator was used in at least three places within the church.
For now, a crew of two to three people are removing all the charred tile, insulation, roofing and other items from within the sanctuary.
Some of the north wall of the church, which buckled during the fire, has come down and the plan now, Mann said, is to extend the sanctuary to the north, almost to the edge of the pastor’s home, while saving the south wall.
A power washer will be used to remove the char from that and other walls.
There is no timetable set for completion of the project
Shortly after the fire First United Methodist Church Pastor Mike Smith granted Mann and his congregation use of space within their facility.
A parent of one of the two men who were in custody when the fire was reported, informed a BPD officer that there were items in their home that did not belong there and those items were identified has having been inside the church.
The pair, Dylan Johnson, 18, and Ashton Wallace, 19, have been charged with breaking or entering of another structure located about two blocks from the church, according to court documents.
After the discovery of the items belonging to members of the church, the men told investigators they acquired the items in a trade but would not reveal from whom or when.