New Jersey church completely gutted in suspected arson, 1 in custody

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019
New Jersey church completely gutted in suspected arson, 1 in custody
Naveen Dhaliwal reports on the suspected arson fire at a church in Franklin Lakes.

FRANKLIN LAKES, New Jersey (WABC) -- One person is in custody after a suspected arson fire at a church in New Jersey early Wednesday.

The flames broke out around 1:45 a.m. at the Most Blessed Sacrament Church on Franklin Lake Road in Franklin Lakes.

Firefighters arrived to find the structure fully engulfed.

"It was a landmark," parishioner Jim Schnaidt said. "It was a gorgeous, gorgeous church."

Franklin Lakes police say 26-year-old James Mayers started the fire with gasoline and a lighter, and he was subsequently burned himself.

He was taken into custody and is currently hospitalized.

Schnaidt's daughter was baptized at the church, and he said he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"It's so heartbreaking," church member Geri Oppler said. "I was alerted to this through a group chat, and the tears could not stop."

The structure was completely gutted by the flames, and as the news spread through the small town, neighbors -- some of whom have been a part of the congregation for decades -- flocked to the scene.

"It's my church," parishioner Mary Grace Cinquino said. "It's my church, the priest, the statues, the pews, everything."

They said there were gifts inside the building for children in need that they were collecting for the holiday season.

A parish center and Catholic school on the property were not damaged.

A concert planned for Wednesday night at the school has been canceled.

Mayers is now charged with arson and burglary. The motive is under investigation.


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