The Terry County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating a fire lit on Saturday inside a replica of the Tomb of Jesus Christ off of the Plains Highway. The Sheriff’s Office explained that someone ignited a pile of cotton placed inside the tomb.
“Someone apparently took some cotton, raw cotton–burs and all– and piled it on a table in there and set it on fire,” said Terry County Sheriff Larry Gilbreath, who also serves as the fire marshal for the county. Gilbreath explained that this was clearly an arson because the large pile of cotton would have no reason to be inside the tomb and on fire.
The tomb is visible off of US Highway 82/ 380, it is positioned next to a a large white cross.
“The people in town are well aware of it, if you travel that road, you can’t miss it,” Gilbreath said.
The display is on the property of Monty and Kathy Henson. The Hensons explained that the fire started at the back of the tomb in an area where linens were laid, representing the body of Jesus Christ.
“The fire had started at the back along the linen strips and someone had piled cotton on top of that, and put the kneeling bench on top of the cotton,” Kathy Henson said. “And that’s where the fire had been lit, [visitors] caught it and saw it just after it happened.”
The Hensons said the fire was discovered by visitors who were there to pray. The visitors had a fire extinguisher in their truck, they also called in the fire department. The blaze smoldered for ten minutes before it was fully extinguished, the Hensons said. Part of their display was damaged, but most of the items inside remained intact.
“It was a God thing,” Kathy Henson said.
The structure of the tomb was unharmed as well because it is framed around a steel piece of old cotton machinery, covered in concrete.
The Hensons, self described farmer-ranchers, got the idea after a trip to Israel. They worked with a team to install the cross after Easter in 2015 and the tomb after Easter in 2016.
“In this tomb [the Hensons] keep it’s a place where people can stop and pray or meditate, he keeps bibles in there for people to take free of charge,” Sheriff Gilbreath explained. “[The Hensons] set it up for the public, for those that have problems in their life and need comfort for whatever the reason.”
The Hensons said installing the display has been a profound experience for them, they said it allows them to refocus and to share their faith with others.
“A place to lay our burdens down and to realize each day that we don’t have to be perfect, just to try to do what God’s asking us to do,” Kathy Henson said.
“At the time we put up the cross, we were going through a severe drought over here and we thought the symbol of the cross would give the farmers some encouragement, and place their faith in the Lord to take care of them,” Monty Henson said.
They’ve received a stack of prayer requests in the tomb– some from locals and some from travelers, asking for guidance. The Hensons delight in seeing the different types of people who walk by their tomb and cross. Overwhelmingly, they said, visitors have been respectful and supportive of keeping their space clean and safe.
By Monday, the Henson family had cleaned up the tomb and placed all the bibles and decorations back inside. But the tomb smelled smoky and burned bits of cotton floated through the air.
Sheriff Gilbreath’s said the circumstances of this fire are personally upsetting to him
“You know, you want to build your community up and this is real negative,” Gilbreath said. “Anytime something is set on fire to hurt anyone, that’s bad, but when you desecrate a religious memorial, such as this, to me that’s even worse. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to do this, what did they accomplish?”
Gilbreath is asking for the public’s help in finding out who was behind the arson. He asks anyone with information to call the Sheriffs Office at 806-637-2212
“At this point in time we’re still trying to develop suspects, we don’t really have much to work on at this point,” he said.
The Hensons said they aren’t resentful toward whoever started the fire, instead they’re hoping whoever set the blaze is able to find more peace.
“We feel like the fire may have been [started] by someone who was just hurting or very angry right now with a life situation,” Kathy Henson said. “Life on earth is hard, and if so, we just pray for that person or people because it is hard.”
The Hensons said they don’t want any credit for the spot they’ve created, they say that all the credit should go to God.