Ohio man arrested after attempting to light Catholic church on fire, vandalism

Eric Beck arrested for vandalism Eric Beck, 30, of Painesville, Ohio, was arrested and charged in connection with the vandalism and arson at Immaculate Conception Church in Willoughby, Ohio, early in the morning of Aug. 12, 2023. | Photo credit: Willoughby Police Department

Police arrested a man Saturday suspected of attempting to light a Willoughby, Ohio, Catholic church on fire in addition to heavily vandalizing it, causing an estimated $20,000 in damages.

Authorities say they saw Eric Beck, 30, of Painesville, Ohio, in Immaculate Conception Church after responding to a motion alarm call at about 2 a.m. 

Beck was holding a broken handle to a shovel and was bleeding from his right hand, police said. Beck, who was “highly intoxicated,” ran out of the church and was arrested, police said. 

Beck is not a member of the church.

Police said Beck entered the church through a chapel that is open at all hours and vandalized it. A photo of the chapel shows a broken crucifix, a knocked-over kneeler, and a smashed candle. 

Beck then entered the main church, damaging different areas such as objects on the altar and a candle stand area, police said. He left a trail of blood. 

Using a bottle of hand sanitizer, Beck then tried to light a carpet leading up to the altar on fire, police said. A photo of the hand sanitizer shows a light next to it.

Police also said a statue of the Virgin Mary was knocked over and damaged.

Beck was arrested on felony charges of breaking and entering, vandalism, and arson, police said. More charges are expected. He was arraigned on Monday and his bond was set at $50,000.

Father Michael Troha, the church’s pastor, told CNA Wednesday that the estimated cost of damages in the church would be about $20,000. He said his stomach “dropped” when he heard the news about the attack. 

Troha said Beck was asked by police if he was religious, to which he reportedly responded that he stopped going to church when he was 18 but that his parents were very religious. 

“At first you’re angry at someone who did that, you know what I mean? Like you want the worst to happen to him judicially, but then you see he’s a human being and he’s really suffering now, I would think, and he’s probably from a pretty good family,” Troha said. 

“I just pity him now, really,” he said. “We’re praying for him.”

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.