Marion County man drives van into Queen of Peace church and sets it on fire
The 24-year-old man from Dunnellon is in the Marion County jail on no bond
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Steven Shields, the 24-year-old man accused of arson and attempted murder appeared before a judge Monday.
Shields in the Marion County Jail after deputies responded to Queen of Peace Catholic Church on Southwest Highway 200 Sunday morning where Shields drove his van through the church doors. He later poured gasoline in the church’s foyer and lit it on fire while parishioners were inside getting ready for Mass.
Now Shields has chosen to represent himself, MCSO deputies said.
Shields has been charged with one count of Attempted Second Degree Murder, evidencing prejudice, a First‐Degree Felony; one count of Arson to a Structure, evidencing prejudice, a Life Felony; one count of Burglary of an Occupied Structure.
Nobody was injured in the fire which caused extensive damage to the foyer of the church but was put out by fire crews before being able to spread into the main auditorium.
After lighting the blaze Shields attempted to flee the scene until Marion County Deputy, Josue Gonzales, did a P.I.T maneuver (Precision Immobilization Technique) and stopped the fleeing vehicle in the 5900 block of South Highway 441. Shields was then taken to jail.
Sergeant Paul Bloom is a spokesman for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office told TV20 this is being investigated as a possible act of terrorism. Bloom says they believe this to be an isolated incident and not a part of a bigger plot. No other churches or places of worship are thought to be in danger at this time.
As of 3:30 PM the man was investigated by the FDLE, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
Sheriff Billy Woods said in a statement by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, “Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear. My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace. I’m proud of my deputies for capturing this man so quickly and we appreciate the assistance from all of the state and federal agencies that worked alongside of us during this investigation.”
A spokesman out of Orlando for the Catholic Diocese provided a statement saying, “We praise God that no one was injured. We join in prayer for Father O’Doherty, the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, our first responders and the gentleman who caused this damage. May we come to know the Peace of the Lord. Masses will resume as normal in the parish hall beginning this evening.
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