A driver plowed into Ocala church, Florida, and then set it on fire as parishioners prepared for mass Saturday, but no one was injured, officials said.
Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Steven Shields, 24, after he allegedly struck a vehicle through the front doors of Queen of Peace Catholic Sanctuary located in Ocala, poured gasoline in the foyer area and lit it on fire all while parishioners were there and preparing for morning mass.
According to MCSO, Shields then escaped from the location in the crashed white van leading a police chase that ended on south Highway 441 when Deputy Josue Gonzales carried out a Precision Immobilization Technique to stop the car and take Shields into custody.
All parishioners were able to evade any potential harm in the church without injuries, and Marion County Fire Rescue was able to extinguish the flames swiftly. The damage caused to the church was described in the report as extensive, and since it exceeded over $1,000 in value resulted in a burglary charge.
According to the police report, Shields informed deputies he targeted the Catholic Church over a “mission”. He also indicated that he had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, but he is not taking his medication.
The report also described surveillance footage that revealed the white van crashing through the double doors, an individual pouring gasoline on the Church floor, slipping on the gasoline then lighting and throwing what is said to be a shoe into the room which was then engulfed in flames.
Shields has been charged with attempted second-degree murder, three felony counts of evidencing prejudice, arson to a property, burglary of an occupied structure, and felony fleeing or attempting evasion. He is now held in the Marion County Jail with no bond.