Fire at Bethlehem church ruled arson; $5,000 reward offered

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (WPVI) -- A fire that ripped through a church in Bethlehem has been ruled an arson.

The fire broke out around midnight Tuesday at the Iglesia Pentecostal de Bethlehem church on Pembroke Road.

Firefighters arrived to find thick, black smoke billowing from the scene. Still, crews were able to gain the upper-hand within 30 minutes.

The damage, though, was done. Most of the building endured at least some damage, but the sanctuary was destroyed.

The Bethlehem City Fire Marshall determined the cause of the fire to be arson. It appears that an unknown person or persons entered the sanctuary area of the church and started the fire.

Officials say the majority of the damage appears to be due to smoke and soot.

"Maybe if we knew the person, do we know why? Could we find out why? Is that person troubled?" asks Grizelle Cruz, the pastors daughter in law.

"We've never had any problems with anybody around here," said the minister's daughter, Elizabeth Collazo.

The Iglesia Pentecostal de Bethlehem was established approximately 50 years ago, but moved to the current location on Pembroke Road in 2000.

Church officials say they have approximately 150 members.

"The motivation for this crime is unclear, however, it appears to be an isolated incident and we do not believe there is an ongoing danger to our community," said police in a news release.

Investigators say nothing valuable was taken before the fire was started.

"You know it makes us cry." said Cruz. "We were talking a little bit about homelessness before. This feels like homelessness, where do we go to worship? This is our house of worship." she adds.

The First Presbyterian Church on Center Street has invited members of the Iglesia Pentecostal de Bethlehem church to their service at noon on Sunday.

The ATF is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest.
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