MARION COUNTY, Fla. – A driver plowed into a Florida church and then set it on fire as parishioners prepared for mass Saturday, but no one was hurt, authorities said.
Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Steven Shields, 24, after he allegedly crashed a vehicle through the front doors of Queen of Peace Catholic Sanctuary in Ocala, poured gasoline in the foyer area and lit it on fire all while parishioners were present setting up for morning mass.
According to MCSO, Shields then fled the scene in the crashed white van leading a police chase that ended on south Highway 441 when Deputy Josue Gonzales conducted a Precision Immobilization Technique to stop the car and take Shields into custody.
All parishioners were able to escape the church without injuries, and Marion County Fire Rescue was able to extinguish the flames quickly. The damage caused to the church was described in the report as extensive, and since it exceeded more than $1,000 in value resulted in a burglary charge.
According to the police report, Shields told deputies he targeted the Catholic Church because of a “mission.” He also indicated during the interview that he had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, but had not been taking his medication.
The report also described surveillance footage that showed the white van crashing through the double doors, a man pouring gasoline on the Church floor, slipping on the gasoline then lighting and throwing what is presumed to be a shoe into the room that was then engulfed in flames.
Shields was charged with attempted second degree murder, three felony counts of evidencing prejudice, arson to a structure, burglary of an occupied structure and felony fleeing or attempting to elude. He is being held in the Marion County Jail with no bond.