Florida man crashes into Catholic Church, sets it on fire with worshipers inside

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A schizophrenic, possibly anti-religious Florida man — it’s always a Florida man — who was reportedly off his medication crashed into the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala early Saturday morning and then proceeded to set its foyer on fire.

“The trouble started about 7:30 a.m. Saturday. People were inside preparing for Mass when a man crashed his van through the front doors of the church, 6455 SW State Road 200. He then backed out of the foyer and exited the vehicle, according to a law enforcement review of the church’s security video,” the Star-Banner reported.

“A man wearing a white T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap is shown on the video entering the building and carrying large red gas cans, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The man pours gasoline on the floor, but then slips and falls. He’s seen throwing something into the room (it turned out to be a shoe) and igniting a large fire.”

The suspect then sped away in his van while the church parishioners who were present escaped from the building and dialed 911.

Authorities were reportedly nearby at the time and spotted the suspect fleeing. A car chase ensued and he wound up crashing into two other vehicles, after which he was taken into custody and eventually questioned.

Look at his mugshot below, and take note of the mask:

(Source: Marion County Sheriff’s Office)

During his questioning, the suspect, identified as Steven Anthony Shields, described his actions as “awesome.”

“Shields said that what he did was ‘awesome,’ and he smiled and laughed while he was questioned at the Sheriff’s Office, according to an arrest affidavit,” the Star-Banner reported.

“Referring to himself as the ‘king’ and saying he was on a ‘mission,’ Shields told the detective he has problems with the Catholic Church and made reference to several Bible passages, including the Book of Revelation. The detective said Shields reeked of gasoline and admitted setting the church foyer on fire.”

According to Marion County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Det. John Lightle, Smith’s a diagnosed schizophrenic who hasn’t been on his meds.

Schizophrenia is a highly debilitating mental disorder that can and often does completely wreck one’s mind.

“Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, and can be disabling,” the Mayo Clinic notes.

Despite Shields’ diagnosis, he reportedly admitted to detectives that he knew what he did was wrong. Based on all the facts, it’s hard to tell if he’s genuinely anti-religious, of if the anti-Catholic sentiment he’d expressed was simply part of whatever delusions are currently swirling in his head.

Regardless, Shields, 23, now faces a litany of serious charges, including attempted second-degree murder, arson to a structure and burglary of an occupied structure. He’s currently being held without bail.

“Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear. My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace,” Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said in a statement following his arrest.

“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.”

As for the church, the blaze caused “significant damage,” according to the Star-Banner, but thankfully none of the people who’d been inside at the time were injured.

(Source: Marion County Sheriff’s Office)

“We praise God that no one was injured. We join in prayer for Father [Patrick] O’Doherty, the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, our first responders and the gentleman who caused the damage. May we come to know the Peace of the Lord,” Jennifer Drow, the senior director of communications for the Diocese of Orlando, reportedly said in a statement.

A study conducted back in 2011 found that schizophrenic men and women are more likely than regular members of the population to commit homicide (or attempted homicide).

Responding to the study at the time, Paul Appelbaum, M.D., the Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University, and a former APA president, noted that there were many more studies just like that one.

“This paper is one of a number of recent studies that have suggested that people suffering from psychotic disorders have an increased risk of violence, especially severe violence such as homicide,” he said to Psychiatric News.

“Indeed, taking the research as a whole — and despite studies to the contrary — one would have to say that the weight of the evidence supports that conclusion.”

It’s not clear whether being a “Florida man” might also be a contributing factor.


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