Parishioners getting ready for morning Mass at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida were interrupted when a man crashed his van through the front doors, backed out, and set the foyer on fire.
According to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, a review of the of the church’s security video showed “a man wearing a white T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap is shown on the video entering the building and carrying large red gas cans, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The man pours gasoline on the floor, but then slips and falls. He’s seen throwing something into the room (it turned out to be a shoe) and igniting a large fire” around 7:30 AM.
One parishioner reportedly went into the foyer after the fire was lit to ask 23 year old Steven Anthony Shields if he was okay. Afterwards they and and other parishioners left the church to call 911 while Shields sped away in the van.
Despite the damage, Mass was still held that evening and the normal Mass schedule is expected to be followed. Senior Director of Communications for the Diocese of Orlando Jennifer Drow said in a statement:
“We praise God that no one was injured. We join in prayer for Father Patrick O’Doherty, the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, our first responders and the gentleman who caused the damage. May we come to know the Peace of the Lord.”
Shields said he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but was not taking medication. He spoke about being a “king” on a “mission” and that he has problems with the Catholic Church while referencing Bible passages.