A man drove his minivan into a church in Florida and then set it on fire while parishioners were preparing for morning mass Saturday. Luckily, no one was hurt, according to the authorities.
Marion County Sheriff’s Office authorities arrested Steven Shields, 24, after plowing his van into a Catholic church through the front doors, he poured gasoline in the foyer area, got out from his van and set it on fire. Parishioners were preparing for Saturday morning mass when he attacks the church.
Officials said Shields then drove off and fled the scene with his white color minivan but was spotted right away by MCSO Deputy Josue Gonzalez, leading in a police chase that ended on south Highway 441, who stopped the vehicle by hitting it with his patrol car.
Referring to the police report, Shields told authorities he targeted the Catholic Church because of a “mission.” He also mentioned during the interview that he had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia but had not been taking his medication.
“Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear,” Sheriff’s Office Billy Woods said. “My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace. I’m proud of my deputies for capturing this man so quickly and we appreciate the assistance from all of the state and federal agencies that worked alongside us during this investigation.”
Luckily, Marion County Fire Rescue extinguished the flames promptly and all parishioners were able to escape the church without injuries. The damage caused to the church was described in the report as “extensive” and since it exceeded more than a thousand dollars in value resulted in an aggravated burglary charge.
Shields was charged with attempted second-degree murder, three felony counts of evidencing prejudice, arson to a structure, burglary of an occupied structure and felony fleeing or attempting to elude. He is now being held in the Marion County Jail with no bond.