LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A 25-year-old man was arrested this week in connection with two arson fires and vandalism at historic churches in Boyle Heights and Pasadena, and investigators believe he may responsible for several more across Los Angeles County.
The Inter-Agency House of Worship Task Force arrested Christian Michael Garcia on Thursday on suspicion of arson and vandalism. Garcia was booked at 7:20 p.m. Friday into the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Jail in Van Nuys, according to online inmate records. He is being held on $75,000 bail.
The case against him will be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Monday for prosecution, the Los Angeles Fire Department said in a news release.
The recent incidents involved an incendiary fire and vandalism Thursday at the more than 90-year-old Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights, and the 129-year-old Church of the Angels in Pasadena on Jan. 13.
Authorities believe Garcia may also be connected to multiple other acts of arson and vandalism that have occurred at houses of worship in Los Angeles County, but did not specify which. A news conference was likely to be held next week.
Thursday’s fire was reported at 2:05 a.m. at the church on the 3300 block of East Opal Street. It took about 60 firefighters nearly 30 minutes to extinguish the fire, which burned primarily on the first floor.
The sanctuary was not damaged and crews were able to salvage the church’s sacred items. There were no injuries. Two statues outside the church were damaged. One was knocked down and another was painted green.
The fire is believed to have started in the candle room of the church. Candles were burning at the time, but they are designed to burn safely.
“They can burn overnight, but that’s per fire code,” Capt. Eric Scott told CBS2. “So, at this point, we’re looking at other potential causes. And again, due to the vandalism, this is deemed suspicious.”
The Pasadena fire at Episcopalian Church of the Angels broke out at 2:20 a.m. Jan. 13 at 1100 N. Avenue 64. The blaze at the church was classified as a hate crime, according to Lisa Dederian of the Pasadena Fire Department. A few historic statues were “significantly damaged,” and there was fire and smoke damage inside the church, she said.
The building, which was built in 1889, is the oldest church along the Arroyo Seco waterway, according to the church’s website.
“Arson and vandalism targeting houses of worship is a serious crime and we have zero-tolerance for willful acts of destruction in the City of Los Angeles,” said LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in a statement. “The destruction of a house of worship not only devastates the affected congregation, but affects the entire community.”
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