By Cameron Rasmusson
The loss of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Bonners Ferry last week was a blow to the town. Even so, the community response demonstrated a solidarity that impressed city staff and officials.
Residents turned out Thursday morning to console the Bonners Ferry Catholic community. Other church leaders offered up their facilities to the congregation. Local businesses donated food and beverages to the emergency workers and bystanders as clean-up continued throughout the day. For Bonners Ferry Mayor David Sims, it was a demonstration of small town strength.
“That’s what Bonners Ferry is great for—that resiliency and that willingness to help one another out,” he said.
According to Bonners Ferry Fire Chief Pat Warkentin, the fire ignited about 1 a.m. Thursday morning. First responders arrived almost immediately to ensure the safety of Father Carlos Perez in the nearby parsonage. When firefighters determined the fire would bring down the church, they brought in an excavator to limit its spread. In addition to 23 Bonners Ferry volunteer firefighters, emergency response workers turned out from all over the county to fight the fire.
“We had a couple of guys from every other department in county to help out,” Warkentin said.
After confirming the fire was an act of arson, local law enforcement announced they had a person of interest in custody on unrelated charges. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have since come in to investigate whether or not the arson was motivated by religious or racial hatred.
“Federal agencies are doing the investigation, which I think is good because they will bring more resources to the table than local law enforcement,” Sims said.
As for St. Ann’s Catholic Church leaders and congregants, they are determined to rebuild. They are in the process of sorting out insurance claims and are already working with the city on plans for a new church, Sims said.
“I think some people were a little afraid that the church wouldn’t be rebuilt,” he added.
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