A Florida vagrant faces an arson charge after witnesses told police he attempted to light an American flag on fire at Miami Beach’s St. Patrick Catholic Church on Wednesday.
Anthony Hentchel, a 38-year-old homeless man with a history of disruptive behavior, attended Wednesday morning Mass and again “began to disrupt the service,” according to police.
Hentchel was asked to leave and escorted from the Nave, but witnesses said he was angry and pulled out a lighter to attempt to burn the American flag on his way out, WPLG reports.
Police responded to find singed tassels on the flag shortly after 9 a.m., but the culprit had fled. Witnesses helped identify Henstchel a short time later and police arrested him for attempted arson.
The American flag was on display alongside a Catholic flag and a statue covered in cloth for Lent, police told the Miami Herald.
“There are visible burn marks to the tassels on the end of the flag,” according to Hentchel’s arrest report. “The close proximity to all these items presented a danger, had only one of these items caught fire it would have caused all of them to be ablaze.”
The incident comes just days after a massive fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris that destroyed much of the 850-year-old structure and priceless artifacts inside. Unlike the Notre Dame fire, however, the attempted arson in Miami Beach occurred with the congregation inside, including several children, police said.
“All of these factors could have resulted in a catastrophic loss of life,” according to the arrest report.
The Miami Beach incident occurred the same day a college philosophy teacher walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City carrying two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters, the Associated Press reports.
John Miller, the city’s deputy director of intelligence and counterterrorism, said surveillance video shows Marc Lamparello circled the cathedral several times in a minivan for more than an hour before he parked the vehicle nearby, walked around the area, then retrieved the supplies from the van and carried them inside.
A security officer confronted Lamparello inside and flagged counterterrorism officers guarding the church. Lamparello police his vehicle was out of gas and attempted to leave in a direction away from the van, but officers eventually located the vehicle and determined it was not out of gas, Miller told the AP.
Police later learned Lamparello was arrested two days prior – hours after news of Notre Dame burning – at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey. Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura told the news service Lamparello refused to leave after a late Mass service and was arrested for defiant trespass and two other minor offenses.
“He said, ‘This is a house of God, it should be open, I’m not leaving. You’ll have to lock me up,’” Fontoura said.
Lamparello’s mother later came and the two left in his van, Fontoura said.
“There was no reason to check the van at that point,” he said.
Lehman College spokewoman Sarah Ramsey said the school is now in the process of firing Lamparello, who worked as a part-time online instructor. Lehman’s website lists Lamparello as a Ph.D. candidate at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.
He’s also an author with books on Amazon centered on “the most vexing philosophical questions” and “arguments for and against the existence of God,” the AP reports.