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Police searching for man after Easter Sunday fire at St. John the Evangelist Church

April 16, 2017 4:22 PM
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Police searching for man after Easter Sunday fire at St. John the Evangelist Church

Historical society says incendiary device thrown through window at Roman Catholic Church

Toronto police have released security camera photos of a man wanted after an early morning fire at a Roman Catholic church in Toronto that police believe was deliberately set.

Const. Dave Delima, spokesperson for Toronto Police Service, said police received a call about the fire at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, 49 George St., near Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West, at 8:05 a.m. on Easter Sunday.

Delima could not confirm if an incendiary device was used to spark the blaze, and if so, whether it was thrown through a window. But he said the fire is "definitely suspicious."

Investigators believe the fire was "set deliberately" and have released security footage of a wanted man. (Toronto Police Service)

District Chief Mike Lester, spokesperson for Toronto Fire Services, said firefighters encountered heavy smoke when they arrived within minutes of getting the call at 8:05 a.m., but the fire had actually put itself out.

The church was filled with smoke and a window was broken from the outside.

"We didn't need to fight the fire," he said. "We just had to clear the building of smoke."

Lester said the fire was found inside a window and a "substance" was found at the scene. He said fire investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire.

According to him, a rug caught fire and the fire was contained to a small area in the back of the church.

Damage is estimated to be about $5,000, he said. There was little water damage.

Toronto police and fire officials at the scene of a small fire at the St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Weston. (Weston Historical Society)

Neil MacCarthy, communications director for the Archdiocese of Toronto, said someone threw a "small firebomb" through a window into the church early Sunday. He described the act as vandalism.

"Thankfully, there was no one inside the church at the time so no one was injured. And thankfully, the fire almost extinguished itself for the most part,"

Staff preparing for the 9:00 a.m. mass detected the fire and called police and fire officials.

"This is the most joyful day for Christians around the world — Easter Sunday. So you have people who were arriving here in their Sunday best for Easter and learning the news of an act of vandalism and violence against their church. They're shocked. Some people were in tears, asking how could this happen," he said.

MacCarthy said the church is assessing the damage and will determine in the next couple of days when the church will reopen.

The Weston Historical Society said in a Facebook post that Easter masses at the church have been cancelled due to the fire. It said the incendiary device was thrown through a vestry window.

It added that the fire was discovered by an altar server who was opening the church for Easter masses.

"As to whether this is a terrorist act, or whether it is the act of some pea-brained individual, we'll have to wait and see what comes of the investigation and as to whether or not security cameras picked up anything," the post reads.

"Anyone planning to go to St. John's will simply have to go to a different church today. If you know anyone who was planning to attend St. John's today, please pass the news on to them that they will need to go to another church in the region."

Jessie Boado, a parishioner, said he was surprised to see no cars in the parking lot and upset to learn that there was a fire. He said he felt nervous when he found out.

Boado said "not even in his nightmares" could he imagine such an act. He said he has no idea why someone would set a church on fire.

No one was inside when the fire started, and no one was injured. A police investigation is underway, Delima said.

Also read: Remains of four people found in charred vehicle in Timmins, police say


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