A Florida man allegedly crashed his van into a church on Saturday and then set it on fire with parishioners inside the building. Steven Shields, 24, was arrested by Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputies for an apparent attack on the Queen of Peace Catholic Sanctuary in Ocala.
Shields allegedly plowed the vehicle through the front doors of the church. He then allegedly got out of the car and poured gasoline in the foyer area of the house of worship and lit it on fire. During the church attack, parishioners were in the building preparing for Saturday mass.
Police said Shields then got back into his white van and fled the scene. Police chased Shields down Highway 441, and the vehicle was disabled when MCSO Deputy Josue Gonzales performed a Precision Immobilization Technique to stop the car.
Shields was taken into custody and 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. Shields is being held in the Marion County Jail with no bond.
According to the police report, Shields told deputies he targeted the church because of a “mission.” WJXT-TV reported that Shields told investigators that he had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, but had not been taking his medication.
Thankfully, all of the parishioners were able to escape the church without injuries. Marion County Fire Rescue extinguished the flames relatively quickly, but the damage to the church is described as “extensive.”
“Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear,” MCSO Sheriff Billy Woods said. “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 us during this investigation.”