After weeks of speculation, fire marshals said Wednesday that arson is the cause of the fire that destroyed Abundant Life Baptist Church in Dumfries in April.
The marshals, though, declined to name any suspects in the case or any possible relationship the arsonist had with the church.
“This whole things has hit me like a ton of bricks,” said Wanda Brown, the wife of pastor Paul Brown. “I’m still kind of in shock with everything that has happened.”
The church, which also housed the First Romanian Baptist Church, was found engulfed in flames around 1 a.m. on April 28.
Two rescue workers from a nearby fire station found the fire after smelling smoke while walking outside the station. The drove to a nearby shopping center and then saw a column of smoke coming from the church at 19750 Curtis Drive.
“I’m not even going to speculate on who could have done this,” said Capt. Tim Taylor, Prince William County Fire and Rescue spokesman. “We have a list of suspects, but do not want to compromise the investigation.”
Taylor said fire marshals dtermined arson following interviews with several people associated with the fire, including church members, rescue workers on the scene and nearby residents.
Taylor said fire marshals are still investigating how the fire started.
Taylor did say, though, the a back door of the church was left open and that the arsonist likely entered the building through that door. The fire is believed to have started in the back of the church, close to the door that was left open.
The back part of the church was originally built in 1984. A classroom section was added in the mid-1990s and then the church built another addition a few years later.
Paul Brown told authorities that he was the last to leave the church around 9:30 p.m. the night of the fire, following a prayer meeting.
A police officer went past the church while doing his nightly rounds around 11:30 p.m. but saw nothing for concern, authorities said.
However, an hour and a half later the church was in flames.
“No one at the church knows what happened,” said church member Janet Ferris. “The whole thing has just been so confusing.”
Brown said the church has about 100 members, although several people close to the church have said the numbers have been down lately.
The church remained quiet Wednesday afternoon. Wanda Brown said her husband left around 3 p.m. to help out an elderly woman who needed some help, and she spent the afternoon running errands after work.
Prince William County Fire Marshals are also investigating two other fires as suspicious.
Taylor said fire marshals found a flammable liquid in the rubble of a fire at a home at 9783 Tombreck Circle in the Braemar subdivision after a fire on April 7. That fire remains under investigation.
Taylor also said there is a primary suspect for the May 5 fire at 10410 Reid Drive near Nokesville and charges may be coming soon.
Staff writer David Stegon can be reached at (703) 878-8065.