Three churches in Bethesda vandalized, two of them set on fire

Three churches in Bethesda were vandalized, and two of them were also set on fire over the weekend in incidents that authorities think are connected.

On Saturday at 1:30 am, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service responded to a call about a fire at North Bethesda United Methodist Church, at 10100 Old Georgetown Rd. The main part of the church was not affected, and damage was minimal, said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the agency.

When an investigator was leaving the site, he came across debris, a couple of damaged headstones and some other wood material on the road that investigators think came from the nearby Wildwood Baptist Church, at 10200 Old Georgetown Rd., Piringer said.

He said the church was not set on fire but that the material found appeared to have been the result of vandalism.

About 24 hours later, at approximately 2 am Sunday, the fire and rescue service responded to a call about a fire at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish, at 9601 Old Georgetown Rd. — less than a mile from North Bethesda United Methodist Church. That fire damaged several pews but was quickly extinguished, Piringer said, adding that investigators think the fire was set intentionally.

The damage was enough to suspend activities in the main section of the church, and Sunday Mass was moved to another part of the church, Piringer said.

Officials at the three churches did not immediately respond to calls or emails seeking comment.

Piringer said authorities think the three incidents are linked and are continuing their investigation: “We can’t conclusively say right now but certainly by geography, by time of day, and the fact that there are three churches relatively close together, that’s certainly one thing that has not been ruled out yet. … It’s just one piece of the whole puzzle that we’re trying to put together.”

At North Bethesda United Methodist Church and St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish, he said, “there were multiple fires either set or attempted to be set in both locations.” Piringer said both churches were also vandalized but that investigators are not “in a position to release that information at this point.”

Anyone who may have information is asked to call the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service tip line at 240-777-2263.

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