Man charged with setting fires at predominantly Black church in Rhode Island

Feb 15, 2024, 12:33 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island man was arrested Thursday and charged with using gasoline to set several fires around the exterior of a predominantly Black church in North Providence early Sunday morning.

Kevin Colantonio, 35, of North Providence, was charged with maliciously damaging or destroying by means of fire or explosion a building or other real property, according to Zachary Cunha, U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island.

Colantonio set several fires around the exterior of the Shiloh Gospel Temple early Feb. 11, according to prosecutors, who said police and firefighters arrived at the church at 12:12 a.m. for reports of an individual trying to set fires.

The building was vacant at the time, and the fires were quickly extinguished by members of the North Providence Police and Fire departments, investigators said. The fires caused significant property damage, officials said.

“Had they not acted as swiftly and as surely as they did, there is every indication that the damage to this house of worship would have been catastrophic,” Cunha said at an afternoon press conference.

No injuries were reported.

Most of the Pentecostal congregation, which has been established for about 35 years, is Black and African American, according to investigators.

It was not immediately clear if Colantonio had a lawyer. A phone listing for Colantonio could not be found in North Providence.

Cunha said a search of Colantonio’s home turned up notebooks and writings that included phrases like “burn churches down to the ground,” “hunt them down,” and “gun everyone down who isn’t white.”

He said additional charges could still be filed and that Colantonio will remain in custody.

Colantonio was arrested without incident according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, North Providence Police, and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The United States Attorney’s Office sought a criminal complaint late Wednesday, based on what prosecutors described as an ongoing, multi-agency investigation that has included a review of videos, witness interviews, and physical evidence.

That included evidence that Colantonio purchased gasoline and a lighter at a nearby gas station shortly before the fires.

The probe into the fires is continuing, investigators said.

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Man charged with setting fires at predominantly Black church in Rhode Island