Community Center Under Construction in Baltimore Burns to Ground

A senior center that was under construction in Baltimore burned to the ground Monday night, and a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said officials are investigating whether it was connected to the riots.

The Mary Harvin Transformation Center was described online as a community-based organization that supports youth and families. It also would have included about 60 apartment units for senior citizens. The center had almost been completed.

But the structure was engulfed by flames Monday evening, consumed by a massive three-alarm blaze that started about about 9 p.m.

The center is a total loss, still smoldering Tuesday at midday. The church's bus was left a burned-out shell.

One nearby resident said she was heartbroken.

"I live in the community, and I am very upset about what happened by what happened," she said. "Not only I, but my family is upset. It could have been my grandmother who needed to live somewhere. It could have been your grandmother...."

On Monday evening as firefighters battled the blaze, the pastor of the Southern Baptist church that had been helping to develop the center, shed tears as he led a group prayer in front of the fire trucks.

"My heart is broken because somebody obviously didn't understand that we were for the community; somebody didn't understand that we were working on behalf of the community to invest when nobody else would," Pastor Donte Hickman said.

A prominent pastor from Prince George's County visited the site Tuesday.

"When many churches and pastors could have left this community, this church decided to stay and, really, to reinvest in this community," said Rev. Delman Coates of the Mt. Enon Baptist Church. "And so it's really disheartening to see the commitment to justice be distracted and for this devastation to happen."

Earlier Monday evening, there were conflicting reports about whether the fire was linked to the protests.

A CVS pharmacy was also set on fire earlier in the day. Businesses were looted and at least 15 officers were injured in the chaos.

The fires and riots erupted hours after the funeral for Freddie Gray, the black man who died of a mysterious spinal injury after being taken into police custody earlier this month.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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