CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Congregation members of a small church in Montgomery County made a frightening discovery Tuesday morning, after they found a burned cross at the entrance of the church’s parking lot.
Officials with the Clarksville Police Department said the incident occurred at New Hope Baptist Church, located near Interstate 24 and Rossview Road in Clarksville.
Pastor Vernon Hooks said a member of his congregation found the burned cross leaning against the gated entrance about 6:30 a.m. He said you can smell where someone used gasoline to light the cross.
Aside from the charred gate, no other part of the church sustained damage.
Hooks has been the pastor at New Hope for 34 years, and said he worries it could be someone's way of sending a violent message, since the church’s congregation is predominantly African American.
"I'd heard of this. I've seen it perhaps at other churches, other buildings, but not in a million years did I think this would happen to New Hope because we are a close community,” said Pastor Hooks.
Officials with the Clarksville Police Department said they are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
Hooks said he plans to leave the cross on the property for now, and make it a lesson in this week's sermons.
"That we will keep doing God's will, that we won't give up, we won't let this be a setback for us as a congregation,” he said.
Detectives have not yet established any leads in the case. They said it could be tied to recent vandalism in the area but aren't certain.
Anyone with information has been asked to call Clarksville Crime Stoppers at 931-645-TIPS.