A 16-year-old white girl has been arrested after police said classmates reported she had a plot to attack a black church in Gainesville, Georgia.
The unidentified student allegedly had a notebook with plans to murder parishioners at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has a predominantly black congregation, according to a release from the Gainesville Police Department.
Police were contacted Nov. 15 after the girl’s classmates at the Gainesville High School alerted counselors about the alleged plot. She was charged with criminal attempt to commit murder and is being held at a youth detention center, police said.
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Bishop Reginald Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the AME Church, told reporters Tuesday that the girl was inspired by Dylan Roof, the man who was convicted of killing nine black worshipers at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, four years ago in an effort to start a race war.
“Idealizing him and sharing the same ideology, she plotted to accomplish the same at Bethel church in Gainesville,” Jackson said. “This incident raises very serious issues and also raises questions that need to be answered.”
The bishop posed the question whether AME churches were being targeted in particular for their history of supporting social justice issues. Jackson said that he’s spoken with church leaders across the state about safety and planned to address the topic with congregations.
Representatives for the AME church are asking authorities to charge the girl as an adult.
“We call upon the district attorney to try her as an adult,” Jackson said. “To plan this kind of event is not that of a childish mind. This took some planning.”
Jackson urged state and national leaders to do more to address the growing threat of domestic terror, citing an FBI field office’s reported concerns on the matter. He also said it was “absolutely awful” that the state of Georgia has failed to pass a hate crimes legislation.
“It ought to bother us that in the state of Georgia, this young girl, this young woman, cannot be charged with a hate crime,” Jackson said. “She cannot be charged with a hate crime because Georgia does not have a hate crimes law.”
The alleged plot comes amid the backdrop of the South’s long history of black churches being bombed, burned and attacked — incidents that continue well into the modern era, including the 2015 shooting in Charleston.
More recently, the white son of a sheriff’s deputy was arrested in April and accused of a setting fires that destroyed three black churches in rural Louisiana. Holden Matthews is awaiting trial on arson and hate crimes charges in the Louisiana church burnings.