Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Police seek church arson suspect


Gatesville Police are seeking a 22-year-old Gatesville man, identified as Payne Stewart De Forrest, in connection with fires that were reportedly set at Live Oak Baptist Church and a nearby mobile home.

Gatesville Police Chief Nathan Gohlke said police responded to a structure fire at the church, located at 113 FM 107, about 3:05 p.m. Sept. 3.

"The fire was isolated to the Fellowship Hall area and was quickly brought under control and extinguished when personnel from the Gatesville Fire Department arrived on the scene."

About 40 minutes later, Gatesville police officers and deputies with the Coryell County Sheriff's Office responded to another structure fire at a vacant mobile home in the 300 block of FM 107, just outside the Gatesville city limits.

"While on the scene, officers spoke with a male subject who claimed to have been walking past the church at the time of the fire, and calling 9-1-1 to report it," Gohlke said. "He also claimed that while continuing to walk home, he saw smoke coming from the mobile home, saying that he entered the mobile home to make sure no one was inside."

Security video footage from the church was reviewed, Gohlke said, and investigators found that the man who claimed to have reported the fire was captured on video pulling on church doors and attempting to pry open windows just before the fire erupted.

"Video surveillance captured him as he entered the fellowship hall area through an unsecured window, and again as he later exited through a main door," Gohlke said. "Moments later, smoke can be seen coming from the building."

Officers identified De Forrest, a white man with a Gatesville address, as the suspect. A warrant was issued for his arrest, charging him with arson with intent to damage a place of worship, a first degree felony.

Anyone coming into contact with De Forrest or knowing his location should call the Gatesville Police Department at 254-865-2226.