Man arrested in LI church fire

Outreach center destroyed
April 2, 2008 8:45:29 PM PDT
A man shown on surveillance video setting fire to a pile of donations outside a church that planned to feed the homeless has been arrested, police said.Wendell Gerald apologized for the fire, which severely damaged the rectory, food pantry and community outreach center of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Church, Suffolk County police said. The church served about 1,000 homeless and poor residents a month.

Gerald had volunteered at the church and lived alone in an apartment nearby, said Lt. James Rooney, who could not explain what motivated the Dec. 30, 2007, arson.

"The church itself was very resilient," Rooney said. "The leadership of the church and all the volunteer members continued on as if this did not happen."

The church's video cameras showed flames engulfing the donated food and clothes.

Gerald, 50, was arraigned Wednesday in First District Court in Central Islip on third-degree arson charges and pleaded not guilty, prosecutors said. He was being held on $100,000 cash bail, which he had not posted as of Wednesday evening.

He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted.

Gerald, due back in court April 7, had retained a public attorney from the Legal Aid Society, which has a policy of not commenting on pending cases. There was no telephone listing for his home.