As Easter Sunday arrived in Augusta, a homeless man torched a wooden cross outside Cokesbury United Methodist Church, according to authorities.
The arson at the church on Windsor Spring Road was one of three fires allegedly set Easter morning by 42-year-old Billie Gene Burdette II. All of them took place sometime around 1 a.m. Sunday, according to arrest warrants. The other fires:
• A 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander was set on fire at the Augusta Mitsubishi dealership at 3145 Peach Orchard Road in Augusta.
• The 20-foot log sign was set on fire in front of Sconyers BBQ on Sconyers Way in Augusta.
• A dumpster was set on fire outside City Gear at 2115 Windsor Spring Road in Augusta.
One Cokesbury church member posted a photo of the burned cross on Facebook with this message: “Someone burned our cross this morning but it is ok, Jesus was not on it for he is risen.”
Pastor Richard Nevard said the church still held sunrise service outside and even used the second service inside to pray for the suspect. “Our job is to forgive and show kindness to people like that,” he said.
The Rev. Nevard said the church would definitely plan to replace the cross, which stood about 6 feet high and was there at least a decade.
At the Augusta Mitsubishi dealership, managers believe the 2022 Outlander will be a complete loss for a vehicle that retails at over $34,000.
Officials say they captured the event the surveillance video, which shows the suspect walking up to the display area outside of the showroom door. He then holds a torch lighter under the wheel well until it started the fire.
A sheriff’s investigation led to the quick arrest of Burdette, who was charged with four counts of felony arson. A motive was not immediately clear. The suspect was being held without bond Monday morning at the Richmond County Detention Center.
At the time of the arsons, Burdette was free on bond for a 2019 aggravated assault and family violence case, which has lingered without resolution. In 2000, he received seven years of probation for dealing marijuana in Richmond County.