Washington D.C., May 5, 2021 / 22:00 pm
A California man was charged with arson Tuesday in connection with a fire that ravaged a historic mission church in Los Angeles County last July.
Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, a church founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1771, suffered a devastating fire during the early morning hours of July 11, 2020. The fire destroyed the church’s roof and interior. The alleged arsonist, 57 year-old John David Corey, was charged in a Los Angeles Criminal Court on Tuesday.
Corey now faces 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, according to NBC Los Angeles. He was known at the mission and had a history of conflicts with mission staff, law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times.
According to the San Gabriel Fire Department, Corey had already been arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for an unrelated incident when investigators pegged him as a person of interest in the Mission San Gabriel case.
"After a thorough investigation, investigators determined that Corey was responsible for the fire at the Mission San Gabriel,” the fire department said in a statement.
The mission was the fourth mission founded by St. Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest who founded a series of missions across California. Serra helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity, and taught them new agricultural technologies.
San Gabriel would go on to be one of the most successful and productive of all the 21 California missions, and in 1781 would form the core of the city of Los Angeles.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, in a statement provided to CNA, called the mission “a historic cornerstone and spiritual heart of Los Angeles and the Catholic community.”