Officials rule out hate crime after burning of Sylmar church crosses

A cross burning at the Sylmar Christian Fellowship Church, a predominantly African-American church, was initially being investigated as a possible hate crime, according to arson investigators. 

LATEST: Sylmar community shaken as crosses set on fire in apparent hate crime

Three crosses in front of the church on Polk Street were set on fire Thursday morning around 4:30 a.m. Officials said each cross was individually set on fire and an accelerant was used. The middle cross was seen knocked down to the ground.

A Good Samaritan was able to put out the fires using the church's garden hose. 

No injuries or other damages were reported.

The House of Worship Task Force, comprised in part by the LAPD, LAFD, and the FBI, were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. However, by Friday morning, arson investigators confirmed an accelerant was used in the fire. At this time, they do not believe the arson is a hate crime.

"Whether it’s determined to be a hate crime or not, what happened in Sylmar early yesterday morning – the burning of crosses on the lawn of a church – invokes a painful history of despicable acts used to terrorize Black people in this country for centuries," said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass in a statement released Friday. 

The investigation remains ongoing and anyone who may have witnessed this crime or has any other information is urged to call police. 

The burning of crosses has long been a sign of racial hatred or anti-religious sentiments.

"Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in hate crimes across this country, especially when it comes to acts against African Americans – and it is possible that this incident is a part of that alarming trend. According to a report released by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations at the end of last year, Black Angelenos make up 9% of Los Angeles County residents, but made up 46% of racial crime victims in 2022. The report also found that anti-Black crimes jumped 30%. Let me be clear: anti-Black hate has no place in Los Angeles," Mayor Bass said.

RELATED: California hate crimes jumped 20% in 2022: report

She said she spoke with Pastor Pierre Howard and said, "My thoughts are with the congregation of Sylmar Christian Fellowship Church as we continue to chart our path forward, together."

Since the 1960s, arson fires at African-American churches were very common in the South, spurring Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996.

In addition, then-President Bill Clinton formed the National Church Arson Task Force due to a sharp increase in church fires.