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 11, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.
John David Corey 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 in connection with the early morning fire.
Corey allegedly broke into the mission and started the blaze, which spread to the roof and along the length of the church, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The fire, which started about 4:25 a.m., took more than two hours to knock down.
“During the course of the fire, portions of the roof fell upon the firefighters,” said Capt. Antonio Negrete of the San Gabriel Fire Department. “They were evacuated and initiated a defensive fire attack.”
While arson investigations are routine with all fires at houses of worship, Negrete noted that the blaze came at a time of criticism of the California missions and damage to several statues of Serra.
Church staff had removed a statue of Serra from public view a week earlier and put it in safe storage, Negrete said.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez woke up before dawn to hear the news that the San Gabriel Mission, founded by Junipero Serra in 1771, was burning. He noted then that the roof had been destroyed and there was substantial damage to the old church, but that no one had been injured in the blaze.
“By God’s grace and the efforts of more than 10 fire engine companies, the fire was stopped at the steps of the altar. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from our Mission families both near and far,” the Rev. John Molyneux wrote last summer on the mission’s website.
A fund-raising campaign was subsequently launched to repair the damage, with work beginning first on the roof, which will hopefully be fully functional and ready by spring 2022, according to the mission’s website.
Investigators from the San Gabriel Fire Department and the Verdugo Fire Investigation Task Force were set to hold a noon news conference to provide an update on the investigation into the blaze.
An arraignment date has not been set yet for Corey, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
“The loss to the mission was in the millions of dollars, but the loss to the community is immeasurable,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in a written statement.
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