Florida man crashes into church, sets it on fire with parishioners inside, sheriff says

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A Florida man was arrested Saturday after plowing his vehicle into a Catholic church and then setting the building on fire as parishioners were inside preparing for Mass, according to officials.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said Steven Anthony Shields, 24, crashed his van through the front doors of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala around 7:30 a.m.  He got out, poured gasoline in the foyer area and set it on fire, authorities said.

Shields then drove off but was spotted by Deputy Josue Gonzalez, who stopped the vehicle by hitting it with his patrol car, the sheriff’s office said.

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Officials said parishioners were not injured. Marion County firefighters quickly doused the fire.

Steven Anthony Shields, 24, allegedly crashed his vehicle through the front doors of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala and then set a fire in the building's foyer area, according to the sheriff's office.

Steven Anthony Shields, 24, allegedly crashed his vehicle through the front doors of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala and then set a fire in the building’s foyer area, according to the sheriff’s office. (Marion County Sheriff’s Office)

“Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear,” Sheriff Billy Woods said in a statement. “My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace. I’m proud of my deputies for capturing this man so quickly and we appreciate the assistance from all of the state and federal agencies that worked alongside of us during this investigation.”

According to an arrest affidavit obtained by the Ocala Star-Banner, Shields told investigators what he did was “awesome” and smiled and laughed while admitting to setting the church ablaze.

Steven Anthony Shields, 24, allegedly crashed his vehicle through the front doors of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala and then set a fire in the building's foyer area, according to the sheriff's office.

Steven Anthony Shields, 24, allegedly crashed his vehicle through the front doors of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala and then set a fire in the building’s foyer area, according to the sheriff’s office. (Marion County Sheriff’s Office)

Shields, who referred to himself as “king” and claimied to be on a “mission,” told a detective he has problems with the Catholic Church, according to the affidavit.

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Shields, who lives in nearby Dunnellon, also said he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is not taking his medication, the Star-Banner reported.

The foyer of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala sustained major damage after the incident on Saturday morning.

The foyer of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala sustained major damage after the incident on Saturday morning. (Marion County Sheriff’s Office)

Shields is facing multiple charges, including attempted second-degree murder, arson, burglary and attempting to elude. He is being held in the Marion County Jail.

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The church foyer was heavily damaged, but Mass was still celebrated Saturday evening in the parish hall, according to the Star-Banner.

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