Arizona police are investigating a series of arson and vandalism attacks on churches as hate crimes.
Beginning in May, several churches in the Mesa area have been the targets of Bible burnings and satanic messages left on their property. Authorities believe a single individual is responsible.
The first crime occurred on Mother's Day, May 11, at Mesa Baptist Church, when a Bible was found burned near the back door entrance to the church's gymnasium. The pages had been ripped out and placed in a pile. Another Bible was found burned using the same method and in the same location on May 17, Pastor Mark Rice reported. The Bibles had burned out by the time the arson was discovered by a church employee.
Pastor Rice said he didn't think the culprit was trying to burn the church down.
"No one was trying to set the church on fire or they would have burned it closer the building," he told Reuters.
"They had something else in mind. They were sending a message: 'We reject Christ by burning the Bible and we lift up Satan.'"
The words "HAIL SATAN," were also carved into the church's gate with three-inch lettering, according to Pastor Rice.
More Bible burnings occurred June 14 at East Mesa Christian Church, June 20 at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, and July 7 at Calvary Baptist Church.
Pastor Rice said that Christians have been the targets of hate crimes for centuries.
"That's been the story of Christianity," he told AZ Family. "I don't take it as a personal attack, a personal affront as much as I recognize the battle of good and evil. And I'm on the good side, the God side, and we're hoping that we can really help these people."
Police say the suspect is a white or Hispanic male in his teens or early 20s with dark hair and of average height and build. He was seen carrying a dark backpack and gloves, knee-length shorts, and a short-sleeved shirt.
Authorities advised churches to call 911 if they see burning items on their property, and extinguish the fire. The burning items should also be moved away from buildings or vegetation, if safely possible. The extinguished fire should not be touched, and should be protected until police and firefighters reach the scene.