MAYESVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Four young members of the Air Force have been arrested after authorities said they spray-painted satanic symbols on a 250-year-old South Carolina church that tends to draw people interested in ghost stories. Now they face charges that could put them in prison.
The four suspects were arrested late Thursday, less than a day after deputies put out surveillance photos of the vandalism at Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, Sumter County Sheriff’s spokesman Ken Bell said.
Satanic symbols and phrases were spray-painted on the church’s columns and doors on Sept. 29, causing about $3,000 in damage. The door to the church’s sanctuary also was kicked in, but deputies don’t think the suspects entered, Bell said.
Investigators aren’t sure why the four airmen from nearby Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter decided to damage the church, which appears on the National Register of Historic Places. But Sheriff Anthony Dennis has said his department has had to deal with other problems caused by people who say the church is haunted.
The suspects are 18-year-old Kayla Eilerman of Ingleside, Texas; 18-year-old Clayre Savage of Port Barre, Louisiana; 19-year-old Daveion Green of Leeland, North Carolina; and 20-year-old Brandon Munoz of Baltimore. All are charged with trespassing, malicious injury to a house of worship and criminal conspiracy, Bell said. Court records did not indicate if they had lawyers.
The suspects face a minimum of six months in prison if convicted of the malicious injury charge.
Salem Black River Presbyterian Church was founded by Scotch-Irish settlers in 1759. The current brick church was built in the 1840s, with a slave gallery in the balcony. After the Civil War, former slaves left and created their own church.
The church was one of about a dozen houses of worship on a list kept by Dylann Roof as he researched where he wanted to commit his racist massacre in 2015. Roof eventually went to Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, killing nine worshippers. He has been sentenced to death.
The Air Force did not say what discipline the suspects could face, but said in a statement that their behavior was not representative of their base.
“We feel we are part of this community, are proud to serve here and we are disappointed to hear of this incident,” said 1st Lt. Alannah Staver, spokeswoman for the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw.
© 2017 Associated Press