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Suspect arrested in Boyle Heights church fire

BOYLE HEIGHTS — A 25-year-old man has been arrested in connection with a series of arson fires and vandalism targeting Southland houses of worship, most recently at Resurrection Catholic Church.

Christian Michael Garcia appeared in a downtown courtroom Jan. 29, but his arraignment was postponed until Feb. 26.

He is facing 20 felony charges — 13 counts of vandalism of a religious property, three counts of arson of a structure, two counts of second-degree commercial burglary and one count each of attempted second-degree robbery and arson of property — plus two misdemeanor counts of vandalism under $400. The criminal complaint also includes hate crime allegations.

Bail was set at $750,000 and, if convicted as charged, Garcia faces a maximum sentence of more than 23 years in prison.

He was arrested Jan. 26 by the Inter-Agency House of Worship Task Force for crimes prosecutors said took place between Nov. 25, 2016, and Jan. 25, 2018, involving four churches in Pasadena and Los Angeles. Garcia is also charged with vandalizing the Industry Sheriff’s Station.

“Arson is an egregious crime in all forms, but acts of arson against houses of worship are especially harmful as they are a violation against a holy sanctuary, a sanctuary that often anchors an entire neighborhood, that offers a place of peace and spirituality for the community,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said.

Garcia is suspected of starting a fire and vandalism at Resurrection Church Jan. 25 in Boyle Heights and the Church of the Angels in Pasadena on Jan. 13.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Garcia was “literally caught red-handed” Jan. 26 while he was about to vandalize another church — Mount Olive Church of Christ in God in South Los Angeles.

The fire at Resurrection Church in the 3300 block of East Opal Street was reported at 2:05 a.m. Jan. 25. It took about 60 firefighters nearly 30 minutes to extinguish the fire, which burned primarily on the first floor. The flames were kept from the main sanctuary, Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott.

The Pasadena fire at Church of the Angels broke out at 2:20 a.m. Jan. 13 at 1100 N. Avenue 64. The blaze at the 129-year-old Episcopalian church was classified as a hate crime, according to fire officials, who said a few historic statues were “significantly damaged,” and there was fire and smoke damage inside the church.

“The collaboration of our federal and local partners and the tireless work of investigators from the various agencies in the task force, made this arrest possible and is a testament to the productive working relationship first responders have here in Southern California when a community is threatened by criminal activity,” Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington and Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said in a joint statement issued earlier.

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights and other Eastside communities, thanked the LAFD Arson Unit, the LAPD, Pasadena police and fire agencies “for their remarkable work and expediency in ensuring the person responsible for these and other heinous crimes will be held accountable.”

“Monsignor John Moretta and Resurrection Church have stood time and time again for Boyle Heights, and Boyle Heights will always stand for Resurrection Church,” Huizar added. “We applaud these investigators and we look forward to assisting Resurrection Church rebuild – knowing that the true spirit of this parish can never be destroyed.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti also hailed the work of investigators for helping people feel safer in houses of worship.

“These crimes are difficult to understand,” he said. “We don’t know the motive. But we do know that when we stand together strong in the face of this senseless hate, this city will always rise.”

 

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