A 37-year-old man from New Jersey was detained after he tried to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Wednesday night carrying two containers of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters, police said.
The man, who has not yet been identified, was taken into custody after a cathedral security guard stopped him from entering the church, New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner John Miller said at a news conference on Wednesday. There were no injuries or damages as a result of the incident, police sources told The Washington Post.
“It’s hard to say exactly what his intentions were, but I think the totality of the circumstances of 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 great concern over,” Miller told reporters.
Around 7:55 p.m., Miller said the man returned to a minivan he had parked on Fifth Avenue, the same street the cathedral is located on, and took out the gasoline containers and the “equipment to light it.” Immediately after he entered the church, he was confronted by the security guard, who informed him that he was not allowed inside carrying the gas and lighters, Miller said.
Though Miller said “some gasoline apparently spilled onto the floor” as the man was exiting, in a statement to the local CBS affiliate, the Archdiocese of New York confirmed that “nothing happened” in the cathedral. Police said there were other people inside at the time.
After the man left, two NYPD officers caught up to him and began to question him, Miller said.
“His answers were inconsistent and evasive, although he remained conversational with them and cooperative,” he said.
The man told the officers he had been cutting through the cathedral because his car had run out of gas, Miller said. But when police checked on his vehicle, it had plenty of fuel, Miller said. He added that the man is “known to police” and that authorities are “looking into his background.”
The man has not yet been charged, but Miller said police are coordinating with the district attorney’s office.
This incident comes just two days after a fire devastated the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Officials in France have launched an investigation into how the blaze started, though it is widely believed to have been accidental, The Post reported.
Several hours after the man was taken into custody, New York City Councilman Justin Brannan (D) asked the NYPD “to increase their presence around local churches and all houses of worship tomorrow.”
St. Patrick’s Cathedral opened in 1879 and remains one of New York’s most prominent landmarks. On Tuesday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said the Notre Dame fire left him worried about St. Patrick’s, which is also a historic structure with a wooden roof that has recently undergone repairs. Notre Dame was in the middle of renovations when the fire broke out.
“I said, ‘Oh my lord are we safe?’” Dolan said during an appearance on the “Today” show, expressing gratitude to the New York City Fire Department for being “extraordinarily vigilant and helpful.”
“I can remember the fire department saying, ‘We have to get the mist system. We have to get the fire retardant in there,’” he said. “Thank God we got it.”
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