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Sketches released in Texas church fires probe

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released the sketches Friday at a news conference.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released the sketches Friday at a news conference.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sketches of three people released by ATF
  • No clear theme linking fires, which have struck churches of different denominations
  • Patrols, by both police and residents, have been stepped up near east Texas churches

(CNN) -- Authorities have issued sketches of three people sought in connection with the spate of eastern Texas church fires.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released the drawings Friday at a news conference in Tyler, Texas.

We have a serial arsonist out there," said Robert Champion, special agent in charge of ATF's Dallas, Texas, office. "We need help from the public."

There have been a total of 11 church fires so far this year, 10 of them found to be deliberately set.

There is no clear theme linking the fires, which have struck churches of different denominations, including Baptist, Methodist and Church of Christ Scientist, on different days of the week and at different times of the day.

While the churches are located in small towns, not all of them are in remote locations.

Video: Churches watching for arsonist
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Police patrols have been stepped up near churches, and in some cases church members are staying at their churches to protect them or patrolling around the churches themselves.

"I think maybe I would characterize the mood of our people as perplexed," Randy Daniels, mayor of Athens, Texas, told CNN earlier this week. Athens, a town of about 12,000 people, has had three of its church set on fire.

In Tyler, Texas, the Tyland Baptist Church was among those set ablaze. Pastor David Mahfood told CNN on Wednesday there was nothing left from the January 16 fire -- "not a Bible, not a hymnal. We've got some bricks. That's it."

At another destroyed church, Russell United Methodist Church in Wills Point, Texas, members are trying to salvage what they can from the ashes.

A large brass cross that hung over the church's choir loft was recently found, church member Kay Crosby told CNN. "It was kind of twisted, but we're going to have it restored," she said.

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