Man arrested in St. Louis area church fires
Arsonist lights suspicious fire (Shutterstock)

A 35-year-old man was arrested in connection with a string of suspected arson fires at St. Louis-area churches, police said on Friday.

Federal and local authorities are investigating seven fires set at doors of churches with primarily black congregations in the area since Oct. 8. St. Louis Metropolitan police said the man they had taken into custody on Thursday was black but did not identify him.

No one has been injured in the small fires that have damaged two Catholic and five Protestant churches. Most have primarily black congregations, although the Shrine of St. Joseph church has a mostly white congregation.

Father Bob Gettinger at St. Augustine Catholic Church, which had its 100-year-old doors severely damaged by fire, said he was glad to hear a suspect was in custody.

"It seems to me he probably needs a little help mentally," Gettinger said.

Gettinger said insurance would cover replacing the doors, which could cost $10,000.

Howard Matthews, a volunteer for the Shrine of St. Joseph, said the rectory's double doors would need to be replaced but he was grateful that the Oct. 22 fire was stopped before it spread.

"I give all the credit to the fire department," Matthews said.

(Reporting by Sue Britt in St. Louis and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, writing and editing by Suzannah Gonzales and Grant McCool)