A man was charged with hate crime offenses Thursday after federal prosecutors said he intentionally set fire to a predominantly Black church in Massachusetts last year.
Dushko Vulchev, 44, of Houlton, Maine, is in state custody on four counts of damage to religious property involving fire and one count of use of fire to commit a federal felony in connection with a Dec. 28 blaze at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts said in a statement. He will make an initial appearance in federal court at a later date.
Vulchev was accused of setting the church ablaze on four separate occasions and slashing the tires of several cars parked near it.
Ultimately, the FBI said, it was the fourth fire set just after 5 a.m. on Dec. 28 that “essentially destroyed” the church.
Damage inside the Martin Luther King Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Mass. following a fire in December 2020.FBI
Investigators said they found Skype messages on Vulchev's electronic devices which contained numerous racist statements. The messages were seized from a computer in his car and saved by his ex-girlfriend who told authorities that he “frequently displayed racial animus toward non-whites and Muslims, and used the epithet 'N-----' to describe Black people,” the FBI said.
In a message written on Dec. 19, Vulchev allegedly wrote, "If I am raped in prison it better be by white people instead of filthy and nasty N------, who are ugly and grotesk!... If its not white then its not right!”
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Another message from Dec. 26 allegedly read: “Eliminate all N------, that includes not watching a N----- bachelorette TV show.” The FBI noted that that the lead of ABC’s "The Bachelorette" at the time was Black.
A search of his vehicle also turned up a photo of Adolf Hitler in an Adidas track suit and a “White Lives Matter” mural, investigators said.
Authorities said they identified Vulchev after reviewing surveillance video footage, store receipts and cellphone data records that indicated he was in the vicinity of the church during all four fires.
Timothy Watkins, Vulchev's lawyer, said he could not comment Thursday.