McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

May 7, 2013

Charges filed in Kiowa Church fire

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER — A McAlester man who said he was “worshiping God” has been charged with first-degee arson in connection with a devasting blaze which destroyed a Kiowa Church.

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

Mitchell was watching the fire fighters 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.

According to the affidavit Mitchell told the Pittsburg County Sheriff Deputy

Six fire departments, 30 fire fighters and more than 15 fire trucks 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, estimated damage is more than $150,000, Johnson said.

According to a signed court affidavit, the

the pastor of the church Linda Snider and her husband Kenneth 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 report.

And because a new roof was being installed, the couple said they thought the truck belonged to the roofers.

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 report, 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 used a back hoe to pull the truck away from the church.

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

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.

As press-time Tuesday afternoon, Mitchell was being held without bond at 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.