Man arrested in connection with arson and vandalism at churches

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By Rosanna Xia and Hailey Branson-Potts
Volunteers clean up damage caused by a small fire inside the Church of the Angels in Pasadena earlier this month. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
A 25-year-old man has been arrested in connection with a series of arson and vandalism attacks at churches around Southern California, authorities said Saturday.

Christian Michael Garcia was arrested Thursday by a special team of law enforcement officials dubbed the House of Worship Task Force. The group includes investigators from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section and Pasadena’s fire and police departments.

“The destruction of a house of worship not only devastates the affected congregation, but affects the entire community,” LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a joint statement. “We will always investigate and prosecute the serious crime of arson to the fullest extent of the law.”

The case against Garcia will be presented Monday to the Los Angeles County district attorney, fire authorities said.

“On behalf of the Boyle Heights community … we applaud these investigators,” Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar said in a statement. “We look forward to assisting Resurrection Church rebuild — knowing that the true spirit of this parish can never be destroyed.”

The most recent arson fires occurred at the Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights early Thursday and the Church of the Angels in Pasadena on Jan. 13. The blaze at the Boyle Heights church was primarily contained to the first floor of the two-story structure. The small fire at the Episcopal church in Pasadena was lit in the sanctuary, using pews, prayer books and hymnals as kindling.

Vandals also used green spray paint to deface a statue of an angel outside the Pasadena church and to write the words “Jehovah Lives” and an Old Testament verse, 2 Kings 19:35, about the killing of Assyrians: “And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.”

The same verse was spray-painted at Ancient Church of the East Mar Shaleeta Parish, an Assyrian church in San Fernando, in a November 2016 incident that the Assyrian American Assn. of Southern California called a hate crime.

Police in February 2017 found similar graffiti at three West Covina churches: Christ Lutheran Church, St. Christopher Catholic Church and West Covina Christian Church.