Building owned by gay couple burns in suspicious fire; victims call it 'a hate crime'

PAGELAND, S.C. — A suspicious fire leveled a building that was going to be home base for a local pageant.

The two gay men who run that pageant awoke to flames only feet from their home around 2 a.m. Friday.

The men believe the fire was intentionally set, and motivated by hate.

"This town is dealing with a lot of hate right now," Tim Griffin said. "This has just got to stop."

Tim and Neil Griffin said they have received threats on social media; some threatened bodily harm.

Last month, they went to the town of Pageland to request a SLED investigation into those threats.

Pageland town officials confirmed on Friday they received a letter from the Griffins, along with screenshots of social media posts that they allege are threats against them.

The newly-built building behind their McGregor street home burned to the ground.

"By the time the fire department got here, the building was 80 percent, 90 percent gone. It went down just like that," Griffin said.

They planned to use the building as headquarters for their annual Miss Pageland pageant. It would have been rehearsal space, and a place for kids to hang out, with a pool table, and movie screen.  They lost all their pageant supplies, records and roughly a thousand gowns they were storing.

The fire is suspicious, not only because of reports of recent threats, but the building did not have power yet. There was one car parked inside, but Griffin said nothing else was combustible.

SLED agents were on scene almost all day Friday, digging through the rubble, looking for a possible cause.

Deborah Eason, whose daughter Carly was a pageant winner three years ago, said she knows the Griffins and stopped to see the damage.

"It makes me sad. It breaks my heart," Eason said. "How did it burn with nothing in it, and no power?"

Pageland police Chief Craig Greenlee told Channel 9 he received copies of the comments made online, that the Griffins believe target them, and has given all that to SLED as a part of the investigation.

They've labeled the fire suspicious, but have not called it a hate crime, or released the cause.

Tim Griffin said he believes some are trying to run him out of town.

"We can't take it anymore, emotionally and physically," he said. "We'll go. We're done.”

Comments on this article