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Man arrested for arson of Southside Baptist Church

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Man arrested for arson of Southside Baptist Church

A South Carolina man has been arrested and officially charged with first degree arson after allegedly setting the blaze that brought down the Southside Baptist Church building on Saturday, June 10 in Mountain Grove.

James Lee Hopkins III, of Liberty, S,C. Is currently being held in the Wright County Jail on a $50,000 cash bond with special conditions. A bond hearing has been set for 9 a.m. on Monday, June 26 in Wright County Circuit Court.

One day after the fire, Hopkins reportedly told a driver, who was offering him a ride, that he had “just burned a church.”
After Mountain Grove police officers picked him up and interviewed him back at the department, he eventually was processed for an unrelated burglary charge, this according to a probable cause statement.
In processing him for a 24-hour hold on that charge, officers inventoried the property in his possession.
This led to the discovery of a green bank bag with the words “Southside Church” written on the front and what appeared to be a new hard covered English Standard Version (ESV) Bible. When his clothes were being processed, a blue T-shirt with the words “Southside Young Group” were on the front with a Bible verse on the back. In contacting a victim from the church, it was determined the shirt was made by the victim, as labeled in the probable cause statement, when he was a former youth pastor and that he had a shirt just like the one being described.

Suspicions of a burglary before the Southside Baptist Church fire began on Saturday when an officer responding to the scene noted some windows on the east side of the building were broken. Broken window pieces were observed outside of the church along with bank information and receipts. One window even had blinds that did not appear damaged from the heat and were broken on one side.

Officers also observed drawers in a desk of an office being out on one side and turned over. Other rooms also appeared to have been “turned over.”
When fighting the fire, fireman advised the door on the east side of the building was unlocked. After later talking to Pastor Josh Miller, they discovered that Pastor Miller had been to the church earlier in the day and believed the doors were locked when he left. In total, Hopkins would be charged with the first degree arson felony along with two second degree charges for burglary.

Everything started to unravel for Hopkins on Sunday when a Wri-Comm 9-1-1 dispatcher received from an anonymous caller who reportedly offered to give a male a ride in the area of State St. near the Tri-County Fairgrounds before 4 p.m.
The caller said the male “seemed a little strange” and refused to take the ride. She then added that the male told her that he just burned a church.
Mountain Grove police officers were then dispatched and located the man near the Dunn exit to Highway 60. He was later identified as James Hopkins, age 18 or 19 (as date of birth is redacted), from Liberty, S.C.

During questioning, Hopkins said he was from South Carolina and worked there until April 23 before making his way to Osceola. He then went to Springfield before learning he could live with his sister back in South Carolina if only he could get a way there.
He picked up a ride from near Rogersville and advanced to Mountain Grove.
After the Mountain Grove Police Department brought him in for questioning, the interview first led to Hopkins admitting to a burglary of the Grove Square.
He admitted to breaking into the Grove Square and sleeping at the business. He also admitted to finding some expired tuna and eating it along with stealing some first aid supplies, alcohol pads and Band-Aids reportedly for his trip back to South Carolina. He left and began walking east on State St. when he thought the lady who previously gave him a ride from Rogersville was the same person who stopped and asked him if he needed a ride. In seeing she reportedly had “several people” in the car with her, he declined the ride and kept walking. This led up to when police picked him up.

In being taken back to the police department for questioning, one officer advised he previously had contact with Hopkins around 4:30 p.m. on June 10 in the Lake St. area due to reports of an intoxicated male being on the porch of a residence. At that time he was asked to leave. The officer later spotted the man outside the Southside Baptist Church around 4:50 p.m. on his way home.