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Man arrested for allegedly setting fires at predominantly Black church

A Rhode Island man faces federal charges for allegedly setting several fires and damaging a church in what prosecutors called a “deliberate act.”

“Multiple” fires were set around the exterior of the Shiloh Gospel Temple, a predominantly Black church in North Providence earlier this week, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island. The building was vacant at the time and no injuries were reported, the office said, but the fire caused “significant property damage.”

Kevin Colantonio, 34, of North Providence, was charged by federal criminal complaint on Thursday with maliciously damaging or destroying by means of fire or explosion any building or other real property.

He was ordered detained in federal custody pending a detention hearing following his initial appearance in U.S. District Court on Thursday. He has not yet entered a plea. ABC News did not immediately receive a response from his attorney to a message seeking comment.

PHOTO: Damage seen on one of the doorways seen a day after a fire at the Shiloh Gospel Temple in North Providence, R.I., Feb. 12, 2024.

Damage seen on one of the doorways seen a day after a fire at the Shiloh Gospel Temple in North Providence, R.I., Feb. 12, 2024.

Kris Craig/USA TODAY Network

PHOTO: This surveillance footage still of a man purchasing a gas canister was included in the federal criminal complaint against a suspect in a fire at the Shiloh Gospel Temple in North Providence, R.I., on Feb. 11, 2024.

This surveillance footage still of a man purchasing a gas canister was included in the federal criminal complaint against a suspect in a fire at the Shiloh Gospel Temple in North Providence, R.I., on Feb. 11, 2024.

U.S. Department of Justice

Investigators identified a suspect in the arson through surveillance footage, according to the affidavit.

Colantonio was allegedly captured purchasing a red gas canister and Bic lighter and pumping gas at a Cumberland Farms located less than a half mile away from the church shortly before midnight on Saturday, according to the affidavit. He is then allegedly seen on multiple surveillance cameras walking toward the church holding the gas canister and then pouring an “ignitable liquid” around the exterior of the building, according to the affidavit.

PHOTO: The Shiloh Gospel Temple in North Providence, Rhode Island, which was the scene of an arson fire in the early hours of Feb. 11, 2024.

The Shiloh Gospel Temple in North Providence, Rhode Island, which was the scene of an arson fire in the early hours of Feb. 11, 2024.

Kris Craig /USA TODAY Network

Police responded to the church at approximately 12:12 a.m. Sunday to a report of someone “attempting to set the building on fire,” according to the affidavit. Five “active flames” were extinguished around the exterior of the building, according to the affidavit.

Amid the investigation, an employee at the Cumberland Farms identified the suspect seen purchasing the gas canister as a regular customer who had purchased coffee during his shift on Feb. 7, according to the affidavit. The Citizens Bank card used to make that purchase was linked to Colantonio, according to the affidavit.

PHOTO: A photo of Kevin Colantonio, included in a federal criminal complaint.

A photo of Kevin Colantonio, included in a federal criminal complaint.

U.S. Department of Justice

Notebooks and writings seized through a court-authorized search during the investigation “included phrases like ‘burn churches down to the ground’; ‘hunt them down, gun everyone down who isn’t white’ and other phrases expressing animus towards racial and religious groups,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island Zachary Cunha said during a press briefing on Thursday.

More charges could be forthcoming in the case, he said.

“To the clergy and the parishioners of the Shiloh Gospel Temple, let me say this: I cannot imagine how you must feel at this profound violation of what is, and is meant to be, a place of refuge and a place of worship,” he said. “To have its sacred precincts violated by fire and by hatred, mere hours before your congregation and your community was to have gathered for Sunday worship is an intolerable violation.”

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