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Crime San Gabriel Mission fire: Man charged with setting fire that gutted historic church in Southern California

03:40  05 may  2021
03:40  05 may  2021 Source:   cnn.com

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A man has been charged with setting on fire a historic Catholic church in Southern California last summer, prosecutors said Tuesday.

A fire tore through the church at Mission San Gabriel , destroying the inside of the building in San Gabriel on Saturday, July 11, 2020. A 57-year-old man has been charged with setting a four-alarm fire that caused extensive damage to the historic San Gabriel Mission last July, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday. John David Corey, aka “Joker,” is charged with two felony counts of arson of an inhabited structure and one count each of arson during a state of emergency, first-degree residential burglary and possession of flammable material prosecutors said.

a group of people walking in front of a building: A fire that gutted much of the historic Catholic church in Southern California last year was intentionally set by a 57-year-old man, prosecutors said Tuesday, May 4, 2021. John David Corey faces multiple felony counts including arson of an inhabited structure, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) © Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP A fire that gutted much of the historic Catholic church in Southern California last year was intentionally set by a 57-year-old man, prosecutors said Tuesday, May 4, 2021. John David Corey faces multiple felony counts including arson of an inhabited structure, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

A man has been charged with setting on fire a historic Catholic church in Southern California last summer, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The San Gabriel Mission was undergoing renovations to mark its 250th anniversary when a fire broke out July 11, engulfing the roof and front entrance of the church.

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San Gabriel Mission was scheduled to reopen next week after being closed for four months owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The church was built in 1771 and made of stone, brick and mortar. It has previously been damaged by earthquakes in 1804, 1812, 1987 and 1994. A controversial past. San Gabriel Mission was the fourth church in California to be established by Junipero Serra, a Roman Catholic priest who was the founder of the California mission system. Serra is accused of brutal colonial subjugation of Native Americans. Activists recently toppled statues of Serra in San Francisco

Fire Badly Damages San Gabriel Mission in California . The fire broke out one day after 0,000 in renovations had been completed at the church , which is more than 200 years old. “It’s hit us pretty hard,” the fire captain Antonio Negrete said. “It’s our city identifier. A fire early on Saturday morning destroyed the roof and badly damaged the interior of San Gabriel Mission , a Catholic church in California that is more than 200 years old and considered to be the “birthplace” of the Los Angeles region.

Firefighters forced entry to tame the blaze, breaking parts of the roof and ceiling, officials said. No one was hurt in the fire.

John David Corey, 57, faces multiple charges, including two felony counts of arson of an inhabited structure and first-degree burglary, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said Tuesday in a statement.

Corey, also known as Joker, is accused of "starting the fire which spread to the to the roof and along the length of the church," prosecutors said in the statement.

It was not immediately clear whether Corey has an attorney. A date for Corey's arraignment has not been set.

The massive fire left the church with heavy damage to the roof and considerable smoke and water damage to the sanctuary area, officials said.

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The San Gabriel Fire Department said there was no evidence of arson. "It's heartbreaking," Capt. Antonio Negrete, public information officer for the San Gabriel Fire Department, told the LA Times . The Mission was founded on Sept. 8, 1771 and became a site of significant historic importance in Southern California . Built with stone, brick and mortar, it's considered one of the best preserved Missions in California . It was damaged in an 1804 earthquake, forcing its arches to be taken down so a new roof could be installed.

Fire rips through and destroys San Gabriel Mission one week after The Father Serra statue was removed from the property. An investigation is underway by ATF and arson investigators. fire touched everything in the building except for the altar.#FatherSerra #SanGabrielMission Some 50 firefighters responded to the location, and they struggled as parts of the roof began to come down, according to the captain. Video recorded before daylight shows dark smoke rising from the flames… …The church , founded in 1771, was the fourth of 21 missions established by the priest Junipero Serra, according to

"The loss to the mission was in the millions of dollars but the loss to the community is immeasurable," District Attorney George Gascón said in the statement.

The San Gabriel Fire Department is still investigating the fire, prosecutors said.

The church, which is nearly 11 miles northeast of Los Angeles, was the center of a polarizing controversy surrounding statues of St. Junipero Serra, a Spanish priest who began the building of missions that line California and remain a tourist attraction.

But his statues have become symbols of violence and oppression to Native American populations. Spanish armies and Catholic missionaries imposed their religion on Indigenous people when they came to take the West.

Activists across California toppled Serra's statues amid racial injustice protests last summer.

a kitchen with a stove top oven sitting inside of a building: The fire gutted much of the San Gabriel Mission ahead of its 250th anniversary. © Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP The fire gutted much of the San Gabriel Mission ahead of its 250th anniversary. a close up of an old building: A fire that gutted much of the historic Catholic church in Southern California last year was intentionally set by a 57-year-old man, prosecutors said Tuesday, May 4, 2021. John David Corey faces multiple felony counts including arson of an inhabited structure, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) © Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP A fire that gutted much of the historic Catholic church in Southern California last year was intentionally set by a 57-year-old man, prosecutors said Tuesday, May 4, 2021. John David Corey faces multiple felony counts including arson of an inhabited structure, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

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