NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 37-year-old man who entered New York’s famed St. Patrick’s Cathedral carrying two full gasoline cans, lighter fluid and lighters was charged with attempted arson on Thursday, police said.
Wednesday’s incident occurred two days after a massive fire severely damaged the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, causing global shock and sorrow. That blaze was most likely the result of an accident though a major investigation is under way.
A New York City Police Department official said Marc Lamparello, a New Jersey resident, was charged with second-degree attempted arson, second-degree reckless endangerment and trespassing after he entered the Roman Catholic cathedral in midtown Manhattan just before 8 p.m. on Wednesday and was confronted by a security guard.
It was not immediately clear if Lamparello had a lawyer.
As Lamparello turned to leave the cathedral, police said, gasoline spilled from the cans he was carrying, causing cathedral staff to alert police officers stationed outside the church.
Lamparello told police he was taking a short cut through the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue from Fifth Avenue to return to his van, which had run out of gasoline, according to John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism for the NYPD.
When police checked the vehicle they found it was not out of fuel, at which point the man was arrested, Miller said.
“An individual walking into an iconic location like St. Patrick’s Cathedral carrying over four gallons of gasoline, two bottles of lighter fluid and lighters, is something we would have grave concern over,” Miller told reporters on Wednesday.
The main entrance of the neo-Gothic cathedral, which has stood in the heart of Manhattan since 1879, is on Fifth Avenue. The cathedral faces Madison Avenue on its east side.
Lamparello has been a faculty member in the philosophy department at the City University of New York, but his name was no longer listed on the university’s website on Thursday afternoon. He had booked a one-way plane ticket to Rome for Thursday, The New York Times and other local media reported.
Lamparello was charged earlier this week in Essex County, New Jersey, with resisting arrest, interfering with the administration of law, and trespassing after he “refused to leave” the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark on Monday at closing time, the county sheriff said.
Lamparello’s alleged arson attempt at St. Patrick’s comes only a few weeks after a man was arrested and charged with arson and hate crimes for burning down three predominantly African-American churches in Louisiana between March 26 and April 4.
St. Patrick’s is considered one of the most important symbols of the Catholic Church in the United States.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Leslie Adler