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Man Crashed Vehicle into Church, Started Fire in Foyer Ahead of Morning Mass: Deputies

Steven Anthony Shields; Queen of Peace Catholic Church

A man in Marion County, Florida allegedly caused a lot of chaos on Saturday. Steven Anthony Shields, 24, crashed a vehicle into the Queen of Peace Catholic Church, and started a fire, deputies said.

“Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear,” Sheriff Billy Woods. “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.”

Deputies said they responded to the church on reports that someone had set fire there while parishioners were getting ready for morning mass. Shields crashed his vehicle through the front doors, stepped out, poured gasoline into the foyer, and started a fire, according to this account. He allegedly then drove off, but Deputy Josue Gonzalez is credited with chasing him, and stopping him using a P.I.T. maneuver in the 5900 block of South Highway 441.

The parishioners sustained no injuries, deputies said. Marion County firefighters put out the blaze.

It’s unclear if Shields has an attorney at this time. The sheriff’s office detailed the charges as “one count of Attempted Second Degree Murder, evidencing prejudice, a First-Degree Felony; one count of Arson to a Structure (where persons are normally present and which the Defendant had reasonable grounds to believe to be occupied by a human being), evidencing prejudice, a Life Felony; one count of Burglary of an Occupied Structure (with intent to commit a forcible felony, with assault while armed, using a motor vehicle as an instrumentality, and causing damage to the structure in excess of $1,000), while evidencing prejudice, a Life Felony; and one count of Felony Fleeing or Attempting to Elude.” The defendant was locked up at Marion County Jail on no bond, where he remains as of Sunday afternoon.

[Images via Marion County Sheriff’s Office]

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