Man threatens to burn Baptist church after minister attends George Floyd vigil, feds claim

DanHenson1/iStockBY: EMILY SHAPIRO AND ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC NEWS

(VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.) — A man allegedly threatened to set fire to a predominantly African American church after one of its ministers took part in a prayer vigil for George Floyd, federal authorities said.

John Bareswill allegedly called the Baptist church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on June 7 and "stated words to the effect of 'you [racial slur] need to shut up,'" and threatened to set the church on fire, according to an affidavit.

The call was put on speakerphone and several children overheard it, federal prosecutors said.

Days before the call, a leader of that church joined other ministers in a peaceful demonstration to honor George Floyd in the Mount Trashmore area of Virginia Beach, federal prosecutors said.

Once the threatening phone call was reported, police obtained records and determined it came from a number associated with Bareswill, the affidavit said.

Bareswill lives in North Carolina but works in Virginia Beach, federal prosecutors said.

On June 9, investigators say Bareswill consented to an interview. Bareswill confirmed his phone number but denied calling a church on June 7, and he said he was asleep at the time of the call, the affidavit said.

Bareswill gave the investigators written consent to search his phone, on which authorities found internet searches for: "Who said all whites are racist," "Black Lives Matter protest held in Virginia" and "Who organized the protests from mount trashmore to town center," the affidavit said.

"The review of the phone revealed that its user recently had searched for information about at least three predominantly African American religious institutions in the area, including the church that received the threatening telephone call," the affidavit said.

Records obtained from Bareswill's phone showed an outgoing call on June 7 to the church, the affidavit said. The records also showed "*67'" was dialed at the start of the call, a prefix code which blocks the caller's number from being identified by the receiver.

Bareswill, 63, is charged with with making a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure or intimidate any individual, or unlawfully to damage or destroy a building, prosecutors said.

Bareswill was set to make an initial appearance court appearance Friday afternoon. He has not entered a plea.

It is not clear if he has an attorney.

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