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World News

Florida man crashes car into church, sets fire to building with congregation inside

A Florida man has been arrested after crashing his car into a church and setting fire to the building, while people inside prepared for a weekend worship service. 

According to officials, 24-year-old Steven Shields drove his vehicle through the doors of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala at 7.30 am on Saturday, before dousing the entrance lobby with gasoline and setting it alight. 

Shields was apprehended after Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy, Josue Gonzales, spotted him fleeing the scene and gave chase. 

Marion County Fire Rescue was able to extinguish the flames quickly. Despite parishioners preparing for mass at the time of the attack, incredibly, no-one was seriously injured. In his police interview, Shields said he targeted the Catholic church “mission", noting that he was schizophrenic and currently off his medication. 

Shields has been charged with attempted second-degree murder, arson to a structure of a structure believed to be occupied, burglary of an occupied structure using a motor vehicle and felony fleeing.

Sheriff Billy Woods said: “Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear. My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace.”

He added: “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.”

The damage to the church was described as "extensive".

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