Man Arrested After Fire Destroys Pittsburg Co. Church - - No One Gets You Closer

Man Arrested After Fire Destroys Pittsburg Co. Church


PITTSBURG COUNTY, OK -- A man faces a charge of arson after a fire destroyed a church near Kiowa last night, and the sheriff says there are indications a meth lab in a pickup truck parked out front exploded.

Firefighters believe the fire spread from the truck, even as two people were inside the church.

Pastor Linda Snider says she and her husband were in the back of the church, putting together some food donations for a family, when a loud sound startled them.

"We heard something that sounded like a gunshot, actually a couple of them," says Snider.

Kiowa firefighters arrived around 9 p.m. on Monday to a call of a fire in a pickup truck next to a church. They found the Praise Fellowship church on Highway 69 just south of Kiowa burning, and the roof collapsing.

"I've fought big fires before, but this is my first church and I hope I don't ever have to go on another one," says Kiowa Fire Chief Patrick Johnston.

"There was a gentleman walking down the driveway of the church -- it sits a couple hundred yards off the highway -- and they detained this gentleman because he was acting a little odd, wasn't near as excited as the officers were about the fire, didn't seem to be too concerned," says Kiowa Police Chief Tony Runyon.

On Tuesday afternoon, Barry Mitchell, 46, was arraigned on one count of first degree arson. His bond was set at $100,000 and the judge In McAlester told him that due to his prior record that he could get four years to life if convicted.

Pittsburg County Sheriff Joel Kerns says he believes a meth lab may have exploded in the pickup truck, and the state fire marshal is investigating.

Even during the afternoon, hot spots continued to burn through the remainder of the church. Johnston says that the vehicle has been moved but it was originally parked right under the awning, and they believe the fire spread from there. 

"It was a nice building and everything, it's gone now," says resident Gaile Shannon.

Snider says they do not know Mitchell, but have since heard he used to live in Kiowa. "We'd had a crew of roofers in there all day and he'd been there and they didn't realize they didn't really know who he was, and when we were in there, we didn't. We found out who he was," says Snider. "We're just going to start over and get a direction and figure out what we need to do."

Mitchell is being held in the Pittsburg County Jail while awaiting trial. Right now, Snider says they are not planning to hold church service on Sunday. The church is about 20 years old and stood two stories tall.