Los Angeles

Suspected Serial Church Arsonist Charged With 22 Criminal Counts

"Arson is an egregious crime in all forms, but acts of arson against houses of worship are especially harmful as they are a violation against a holy sanctuary"

A 25-year-old man arrested in connection with a series of arson fires and vandalism targeting Southland houses of worship, most recently in Boyle Heights, was charged Monday with 22 criminal counts.

Christian Michael Garcia was expected to be arraigned in a downtown courtroom this afternoon on 20 felony charges -- 13 counts of vandalism of a religious property, three counts of arson of a structure, two counts of second- degree commercial burglary and one count each of attempted second-degree robbery and arson of property -- plus two misdemeanor counts of vandalism under $400.

Garcia was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail following his arrest Friday by the Inter-Agency House of Worship Task Force.

"Arson is an egregious crime in all forms, but acts of arson against houses of worship are especially harmful as they are a violation against a holy sanctuary, a sanctuary that often anchors an entire neighborhood, that offers a place of peace and spirituality for the community," Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said.

The most recent crimes for which Garcia is suspected are a fire and vandalism at Resurrection Church on Thursday in Boyle Heights and the Church of the Angels in Pasadena on Jan. 13. Authorities said Garcia is also connected to multiple other acts of arson and vandalism that have occurred at houses of worship in Los Angeles County.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said Garcia was "literally caught red-handed" on Friday while he was about to vandalize another church -- Mount Olive Church of Christ in God in South Los Angeles.

Thursday's fire was reported at 2:05 a.m. at Resurrection Church in the 3300 block of East Opal Street. It took about 60 firefighters nearly 30 minutes to extinguish the fire, which burned primarily on the first floor. The flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott.

The Pasadena fire at Church of the Angels broke out at 2:20 a.m. Jan. 13 at 1100 N. Avenue 64. The blaze at the 129-year-old Episcopalian church was classified as a hate crime, according to fire officials, who said a few historic statues were "significantly damaged," and there was fire and smoke damage inside the church.

"The collaboration of our federal and local partners and the tireless work of investigators from the various agencies in the task force, made this arrest possible and is a testament to the productive working relationship first responders have here in Southern California when a community is threatened by criminal activity," Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington and Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said in a joint statement issued earlier.

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights and other Eastside communities, thanked the LAFD Arson Unit, the LAPD, Pasadena police and fire agencies "for their remarkable work and expediency in ensuring the person responsible for these and other heinous crimes will be held accountable."

Mayor Eric Garcetti also hailed the work of investigators for helping people feel safer in houses of worship.

"These crimes are difficult to understand," he said. "We don't know the motive. But we do know that when we stand together strong in the face of this senseless hate, this city will always rise."

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