McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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Police/Courts

May 10, 2013

Man charged in church fire case

McALESTER — A McAlester man who said he was “worshiping God” when his truck caught fire has been charged with first-degree arson in connection with a fire which destroyed a Kiowa church.

Barry Leon Mitchell, 46, of McAlester was charged with one count of first degree arson in Pittsburg County District Court on Tuesday in connection with a Monday night fire that destroyed the Fellowship Worship Church in Kiowa.

Mitchell was watching the firefighters battle the blaze as he spoke to the News-Capital Monday night before his arrest.

“I was sitting in my truck worshiping God and then the flames just came up,” Mitchell said.

Six fire departments, more than 15 fire trucks and 30 firefighters from Kiowa, Pittsburg, Savanna, Blanco, Savanna, McAlester and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, battled the blaze for more than five hours, according to Kiowa Fire Chief Patrick Johnson.

The fire is being investigated by the state fire marshal and the building was a total loss, with estimated damage more than $150,000, Johnson said.

According to a signed court affidavit, Pastor Linda Snider and her husband, Kenneth Snider, arrived at the church about 8:15 p.m. to gather groceries for a needy family.

 When they drove up, they noticed a pickup truck parked near front of the church with the hood of the truck under the porch, according to the affidavit.

 The couple said they thought the truck belonged to roofers who were installing a new roof on the church building earlier that day.

When the couple was about to leave they heard what sounded like a gunshot and saw the truck was on fire, the report states.

According to the affidavit, the pastor said she went to call the fire department and when she returned to the front of the church, “the truck had exploded into flames.”

The couple exited out of a rear door and Kenneth Snider used a back hoe to pull the truck away from the church, the affidavit states.

 By the time the truck was pulled away, the fire had already spread to the church building, according to the affidavit.

Meanwhile, Johnson said when he arrived at the scene soon after 9 p.m. the entire building was engulfed in flames and the roof had caved in.

Mitchell was being held early Thursday on $100,000 bond at the Pittsburg County Criminal Justice Center.

If convicted of the charge against him, Mitchell faces fines of up to $25,000 or imprisonment for up to 35 years, or both.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.

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