UPDATED 04/04/12 4:28 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Vandals left a burning shirt on the door of a community center at St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church early Wednesday, and police are trying to figure out if it was a random act, or if it was meant to send a message.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, police and the Rev. Michael Pfleger – the famous pastor of the church – believe some bad people or gangbangers are trying to send a message to this church to leave them alone.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports
But Pfleger says he wants to send a message right back at them.
“We’re not stopping,” Pfleger said. “I mean, this is serious. People are dying out here. Kids are getting shot out here. So we’re going to continue. So if they think this is going to intimidate us, it’s not.”
Melted door handles and burn marks are all that is on the double metal doors to the church’s Ark youth community center in gymnasium. Someone draped a burning shirt through the door handles at the entrance in the 7800 block of South Racine Avenue.
The door and the handles were damaged by the fire, of which police were notified around 2:15 a.m. Wednesday.
Police initially responded with Bomb and Arson Section investigators, but realized there was no further damage or threat to the church and no one was injured. But detectives have classified the incident as an attempted arson.
But this was not the first incident of vandalism on church property, Pfleger said.
“We’ve had this twice in the last six, eight weeks where we had something. The other two times it was bags of feces that were tied – once to the church door, once to the school door, and the detectives said they’re probably stepping it up a notch now and starting the fires,” Pfleger said.
Parishioners were furious over the act of vandalism.
“The children use the building for all types of activities to keep them out of the street. This is their social center, like,” said parishioner Hattie Stokes. “Children come from everywhere to come here to be safe.”
Stokes couldn’t believe that someone would try to set fire to the building.
“Oh my goodness. They’re trying to burn down my church. Our house of worship,” she said, “and I think it’s a disgrace.”
Pfleger says it won’t take long for police to figure out who left the burning shirt, because it was all captured here on this surveillance camera.
“You can see person walking up around 2 o’clock this morning and cut across street, you see him go up to door. You see him light it,” Pfleger said.
As CBS 2’s Brad Edwards reports, Pfleger carried on with his day’s schedule afterward. He traveled to Memphis, to receive the “I Am A Man” award, for works he’s performed to keep alive the dream of civil rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Police believe Pfleger’s work against gun violence instigated the vandalism.
On Tuesday, Pfleger, the pastor of the church in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, was part of a rally and protest along with several other pastors, urging the city to shut down a convenience store in the neighborhood where six people were shot last week.
Pfleger and other pastors want the city to pull the license of the Bishop Golden Store at 79th and Bishop streets, and shut it down.
One man – Shawndell Harris, 22 – was killed and five others were injured inside the store on Thursday of last week, when two men entered the store and opened fire on the people inside. Police said the suspects fled the scene in a silver sport-utility vehicle, and they have not been arrested.
Pfleger has called the store a street office for gangbangers. Police confirmed they have made 28 arrests near the store since January.
But some neighbors have argued that that the store should be kept open.
Pfleger suspects the vandalism might have been connected to the march against the store, but he plans to keep up the fight.
“There’s kids who have been shot last night. There’s people who are afraid to go to school. I mean, in the scope of things, this is nothing. As the officers said, ‘It was somebody trying to send you a message,’ then they obviously must be getting our message, and our message – we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue. We were out at that store yesterday. We want that store closed. We want the shooting to stop, and we’re going to continue to do what we do until the violence ends,” Pfleger said.
Pfleger says he is reminded of his calling on this Holy Week.
“Faith costs, and faith demands a cost of being willing to put yourself out there,” Pfleger said.
Community activist Andrew Holmes pledged his support to Pfleger in the mission to find those responsible for the apparent attempted arson.
“This is an establishment where it’s a safe haven for children, and we’re going to stand behind him 100 percent until we find the perpetrator who tried to attempt to set this fire to the door,” he said. “He’s in good spirits, so his mission is going to keep going, and we’re going to follow and help.”
Police are currently reviewing surveillance video.