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Maine Resident Charged With Hate Crimes For December Fire That Destroyed Springfield, Mass., Church

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church on fire in Springfield, Massachusetts, on December 28, 2020.
Springfield Fire Department
MassLive / MassLive.com
The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church on fire in Springfield, Massachusetts, on December 28, 2020.

A man from Houlton, Maine, faces federal hate crime charges for allegedly setting a December 2020 fire that destroyed a Springfield, Massachusetts, church.In an affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint (PDF — graphic content), an FBI agent said 44-year-old Dushko Vulchev set two small fires at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in mid-December and slashed several car tires in the immediate vicinity.

Then, on December 28, Vulchev set another fire that destroyed the building, according to the agent.

The church has a primarily Black congregation. The federal government said a search of Vulchev's vehicle and electronic devices revealed language and images demonstrating his hatred of Black people. 

FBI investigators spoke with several people who know Vulchev and said he has a "racial animus" toward non-white people and Muslims and in emails indicated he wanted to kill them.

Dr. Terrlyn Curry Avery, pastor at the church, said it's too soon to think about what justice could bring, but she feels a little relief.

“That we're drawing at least toward understanding what happened and why this happened to us," Curry Avery said.

As for rebuilding the church, Curry Avery said they’re in an early stage of understanding the costs, but the ministry moves forward.

Vulchev, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Bulgaria, is being held at Bridgewater State Hospital. He was arrested December 31, according to court documents.

Vulchev's attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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