Task Force Arrests Suspect In Church Fires

January 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A 25-year-old man arrested in connection with a series of arson fires and vandalism targeting houses of worship throughout Southern California, most recently in Boyle Heights, was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail Saturday.

The Inter-Agency House of Worship Task Force arrested Christian Michael Garcia on Thursday on suspicion of arson and vandalism. Garcia was booked at 7:20 p.m. Friday into the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Jail in Van Nuys, according to online inmate records.

Read about communication reaction in this story .

The case against Garcia will be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Monday for prosecution, authorities said.

“Arson and vandalism targeting houses of worship is a serious crime and we have zero tolerance for willful acts of destruction in the city of Los Angeles,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said in a joint statement.

“The destruction of a house of worship not only devastates the affected congregation, but affects the entire community,” they said. “We will always investigate and prosecute the serious crime of arson to the fullest extent of the law.”

The most recent incidents involved an incendiary fire and vandalism at Resurrection Church on Thursday in Boyle Heights and the Church of the Angels in Pasadena on Jan. 13. Authorities say Garcia is also connected to multiple other acts of arson and vandalism that have occurred at houses of worship in Los Angeles County.

A dumpster outside Resurrection church is filled with charred and water-soaked remnants of fire Thursday. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez)

Thursday’s fire was reported at 2:05 a.m. at the church on the 3300 block of East Opal Street. It took about 60 firefighters nearly 30 minutes to extinguish the fire, which burned primarily on the first floor. The flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott.

The Pasadena fire at Church of the Angels broke out at 2:20 a.m. Jan. 13 at 1100 N. Avenue 64. The blaze at the 129-year-old Episcopalian church was classified as a hate crime, according to Lisa Dederian of the Pasadena Fire Department. A few historic statues were “significantly damaged,” and there was fire and smoke damage inside the church, she said.

“The collaboration of our federal and local partners and the tireless work of investigators from the various agencies in the task force, made this arrest possible and is a testament to the productive working relationship first responders have here in Southern California when a community is threatened by criminal activity,” Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington and

Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said in a joint statement.

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights and other Eastside communities, thanked the LAFD Arson Unit, the LAPD, Pasadena police and fire agencies “for their remarkable work and expediency in ensuring the person responsible for these and other heinous crimes will be held accountable.”

“Monsignor (John) Moretta and Resurrection Church have stood time and time again for Boyle Heights, and Boyle Heights will always stand for Resurrection Church,” Huizar said. “We applaud these investigators and we look forward to assisting the Resurrection Church rebuild knowing that the true spirit of this parish can never be destroyed.”

Fire at Boyle Heights Church Called ‘Suspicious’ – Community Outraged

January 25, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A “suspicious” fire damaged a Catholic church in Boyle Heights that also serves as a center for community activism this morning, and an investigation is underway to find the cause.

Flames were reported at 2:05 a.m. at Resurrection Church, located at 3345 E. Opal St. in Boyle Heights. No one was injured, according to fire officials.

The multi-agency House of Worship Task Force has been called in to investigate. Two religious statues outside Resurrection were vandalized. One was toppled over. On the other, the face of Jesus was splattered with bright green paint.

A dumpster outside Resurrection church is filled with charred and water-soaked remnants of fire Thursday. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez)

The task force, with members from several law enforcement agencies, has been investigating a rash of suspicious church fires, including a Jan. 13 fire in Pasadena that damaged the Church of the Angels, a 129-year-old Episcopalian church at 1100 N. Avenue 64. That non-injury blaze, which broke out at 2:20 a.m., is also considered suspicious but to date has not been classified as a hate crime, according to Lisa Dederian of the Pasadena Fire Department.

The fire at Resurrection was primarily centered on the first floor of the church, and the flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott. It took 62 firefighters 26 minutes to douse the fire, according to Margaret Stewart with the fire department. Firefighters were conducting extensive salvage operations and water removal during the early morning hours, Stewart said. Due to the vandalism, the fire has been deemed suspicious, Scott said.

This newspaper has often referred to Resurrection Church, which includes an elementary school and headquarters for the local Neighborhood Watch — a group that does much more than keep an eye out for crime — as “ground zero” in the battle against environmental injustice and other social justice issues plaguing the working class community of Boyle Heights.

Most recently, church members led the fight to shutter the polluting Exide plant in Vernon and to force the cleanup of thousands of homes, schools and parks contaminated with lead from the factory.

That history caused an immediate outpouring of concern from the community and elected officials.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) said he and his family regularly attends the church and he heard the “heartbreaking news” about the “fire and vandalism” when he awoke this morning.

“I pledge to do everything in my power to assist law enforcement in hunting down the perpetrators of this crime,” said Santiago in a statement released earlier today.

“…my wife, Celina, and I will keep the church and its parishioners in our thoughts and prayers moving forward,” he said, adding that he does not “understand this sort of senseless vandalism.”

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar (CD-14) said he met with the church’s pastor, Monsignor John Moretta, early this morning. Huizar said he was fully briefed by LAPD and LAFD inspectors.

“What I can share for now is the LAPD and LAFD investigators assured me that they will do everything in their power to get to the bottom of what caused the fire,” said Huizar, explaining he could not be more specific because there’s an ongoing investigation.

“I assured Monsignor Moretta that we will do everything in our power to help them rebuild and come back stronger than ever,” Huizar said in a press statement.

According to Moretta, the fire damaged the Church’s vestibule, but firefighters were able to keep it from spreading. The fire was in an area known as the “candle-room,” where worshippers light candles as part of their prayers for special intentions, such as the recovery of someone who is ill or in thanks for something good that has happened.

Candles were burning that night, but, according to fire officials, the candles are specially designed to burn slowly and safely. “They can burn overnight, that’s per fire code, so we’re looking for other potential causes,” said Capt. Scott.

The situation, though devastating, could have been much worse.

“We were lucky, some of our neighbors were out at that hour and saw the fire and called it in,” Moretta told EGP Thursday.

Billy Gordon told CBS2 News that he saw smoke and flames coming from the church and called 911.

“My first thought was that I hope there’s nobody in there and then the second thought was the statue that’s knocked over there, should we try and rescue it, you know it was knocked down on its face and then maybe we shouldn’t move this thing. He said, no don’t touch it, it’s a crime scene.”

A section of Opal Street was cordoned off for hours as fire fighters mopped up the scene and the Worship Task Force began its investigation.

“I’ve been here [at Resurrection] for 34 years and have never seen anything like this,” Moretta responded when asked if he had any idea who might have started the fire.

He said the task force was still inside, going through the scene: “We need to let them finish their work first.”

The task force was combing through the debris, going inch by inch through charred and wood soaked remains searching for evidence of what caused the early morning blaze, said fire officials.

It will take time to repair the damage from the fire, smoke and water, but the church will continue to hold services, either outdoors or the in parish hall, Moretta said.

“We had weddings and baptisms scheduled for this weekend,” he said. “We’ve been working all day on making alternate arrangements,” he said, telling EGP he’d been up since 2:00 a.m.

The church is all closed up. From the outside, the damage seems minimal: a narrow section of windows blackened by smoke; the front doors charred around the edges; a dumpster filled with water damaged remains from the interior.

It’s much worse than it appears, Santiago said after touring some of the damage.

“It’s devastating to see … the damage from the fire and the water,” he told EGP. “It’s gruesome and cruel,” he said, again promising to do anything he can to help the church.

While every fire takes its toll, the fire at Resurrection Church is especially troublesome to the people who seek not only spiritual guidance there, but also the many social services offered to parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

Parishioner Sylvia Manzano says the fire has shaken her.

“It’s very, very awful, I feel nervous, I feel angry,” Manzano told CBS 2 reporter Kandiss Crone.

“Who would do something like this,” asked Ramon in Spanish, not wanting to give his last name because he’s in the country without permission. “This church, father, they do go things, they don’t hurt anyone,” he said, shaking his head in disgust and disbelief. “This is a disgrace. You have to be mentally ill or full of hate to attack a church, to throw paint on Jesus,” Ramon said.

 

Se Rechaza Plan de Limpieza Exide

September 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

El plan desarrollado por reguladores estatales para limpiar la contaminación masiva cual fue dejada cuando la planta de reciclaje de baterías automotrices en Vernon dejará a demasiada gente en peligro, dijeron activistas ambientales, oficiales elegidos y residentes de municipalidades en cuales se han encontrado niveles peligrosos de plomo y otros contaminantes tóxicos en una rueda de prensa en Commerce este lunes.

El peligro y riesgos para la salud no paran en el portal o en el límite de la propiedad y tampoco deben quedar ahí su limpieza, muchos dijeron sobre el plan del Departamento De Control Sobre Substancias Tóxicas de California (DTSC) para limpiar propiedades contaminada por plomo de la planta cerrada de Exide Technologies.

Casi 200 personas asistieron a la rueda de prensa organizada por la “Coalición Para Comunidades Sin Plomo”, un grupo comunitario que representa a los pueblos de Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Bell, Huntington Park Maywood y Vernon, vecindades y municipalidades dentro de la zona de 1.7-millas que beneficiará de la limpieza. Después de la conferencia para los medios, manifestantes caminaron hasta las oficinas de la agencia estatal DTSC en Commerce, en donde exigieron coreando y con gritos una limpieza mayor y más rápida por parte del DTSC.

El peligro y riesgos para la salud no paran en el portal o en el límite de la propiedad y tampoco deben quedar ahí su limpieza, dijeron el Consejal Jose Huizar y diputado estatal Miguel Santiago. (Foto EGP por Fred Zermeno)

El peligro y riesgos para la salud no paran en el portal o en el límite de la propiedad y tampoco deben quedar ahí su limpieza, dijeron el Consejal Jose Huizar y diputado estatal Miguel Santiago. (Foto EGP por Fred Zermeno)

 

Compartida en julio, el plan de la agencia recomienda la remoción de tierra contaminada desde las yardas de aproximadamente 2,500 propiedades, siendo los hogares revelados por investigaciones con los niveles más altos de plomo y en lugares donde niños y mujeres embarasadas están corren riesgos mayores.

El plomo es una toxina peligrosa que es conocida como causa de enfermedades nuerológicas, descapacidades cognitivas o cerebrales, aún a bajos niveles de contacto. Aunque oficiales federales y estatales a cargo de la salud pública hayan establecido niveles aceptables de contacto, expertos dicen que no hay ningún nivel de contacto sin peligro.

Residentes y activistas excoriaron el plan como insuficiente y demasiada despacio para enfrentar al peligro para la salud. Este lunes, señalaron al DTSC que se debe agregar a las vias peatonales y a los interiores de viviendas al plan, y ampliar a la área designada para remediación. Vías recreacionales o “peatonales” se explica como la área entre una yarda o propiedad y la calle, que muchos residentes tratan como una extensión de su hogar.

“Esto no lo aguantarían en Porter Ranch o Beverly Hills,” dijo Monsignor John Moretta de la Iglesia Resurrection en Boyle Heights, uno de los organizadores principales de la lucha para rectificar al los daños causados por Exide.

Moretta aludía a la esfuerza rápida y económicamente fuerte que se efectuó en Porter Ranch, donde los residentes exigieron la clausura de una de la instalaciones de Southern California Gas Co. en Aliso Canyon después que se descubrió un escape de gas en octubre del 2015. Tomó menos de tres meses para trasladar a más de 2,000 residentes, cerrar a las escuelas y re-establecer a los alumnos en otros colegios, mientras los residentes que han tenido que vivir por décadas en la sombra tóxica de Exide todavía esperan que sus hogares se barren de la contaminación.

“Tiene todo que ver con la política y el dinero”, dijo Moretta. “Nuestros oficiales gubernamentales tienen que implementar un plan que sea 100 por cien sostenido por el presupuesto”.

Según los monitores de la calidad del aire, alrededor d 110,000 personas fueron expuestos a emisiones carinogénicos de la planta y más de 10,000 propiedades podrán tener algún nivel de contaminación por plomo. Expertos ambientales califican a la contaminación como la más grande en la historia del estado.

“Nuestros oficiales gubernamentales tienen que implementar un plan que sea 100 por cien sostenido por el presupuesto”, dijo Monsignor John Moretta de la Iglesia Resurrection en Boyle Heights. (Foto EGP por Fred Zermeno)

“Nuestros oficiales gubernamentales tienen que implementar un plan que sea 100 por cien sostenido por el presupuesto”, dijo Monsignor John Moretta de la Iglesia Resurrection en Boyle Heights. (Foto EGP por Fred Zermeno)

El Consejal de Los Angeles Jose Huizar dijo que la comunidad ha “gritado por auxilio” por más de 30 años, mientras la agencia DTSC “permitió” a Exide “contaminar” mientras “nuestros hijos fueron expuestos a contaminación de plomo, en el aire y en la tierra”.

“Y ahora el DTSC está ignorando la necesidad para un plan de limpieza complete que llega a todos los lugares en donde nuestro niños juegan y viven”, Huizar dijo en un correo electrónico a EGP. “El plomo está en todas partes, incluyendo las vías recreacionales, y es razonable que todas las áreas de la zona contaminada se deben limpiar… Esto es, literalmente, una cuestión de vida o muerte”, Huizar dijo. “¿Donde está la urgencia y porque no estamos armando una limpieza entera?” Calificó cualquiera esfuerza de limpieza menos de eso como inaceptable.

EGP intentó contactar al DTSC para una respuesta pero a punto de imprimir todavía no habían respondido, pero previamente, la agencia ha dicho que no tiene suficiente dinero para un limpieza completa – que expertos de salud y el ambiente estiman llegar a los $400 millones o más.

Como parte de su arreglo con autoridades federales para cerrar permanentemente y evitar cargos criminales, Exide accedió pagar $50 millones para la eliminación de sus gasto peligrosos; de eso, $26 millón era para a la limpieza de las vecindades cercanas. Después de mucho clamor de la comunidad, el Gobernador Jerry Brown accedió prestarle $176.6 millones al DTSC para una investigación y prueba igual como trabajo de limpieza en los barrio alrededor de la planta cerrada.

La Supervisora Hilda Solis dijo lunes que la área enmarcada por el plan de limpieza es demasiada pequeña y debe ser ampliada fuera del circulo de 1.7-millas. Ha criticado frecuentemente a los reguladores estatales por no actuar de manera suficientemente agresiva y por ignorar recomendaciones del condado y de los residentes.

Como Moretta, está convencida de que si las comunidades compuestas por Latinos de la clase trabajadora eran, a cambio, de más dinero y anglosajónes, el estado estaría haciendo más.

“Residentes tienen todo el derecho de estar enojados con el paso lento de la limpieza”, diputado estatal Miguel Santiago dijo a EGP. Dijo que había asistido a la manifestación porque tiene una responsabilidad a sus constituyentes seguir presionando a los reguladores estatales, algo que es, para el, una “prioridad principal” desde su elección.

Una encuesta informal de más de 4,000 residentes efectuada unas semanas antes de la revelación por la DTSC de su plan, señalo que muchos de los residentes de la área impactada temen por si mismos y los familiares con quienes viven ser envenenados o padecer de cáncer como resultado haber sido expuesto.

Los coros y gritos el lunes eran muy aparecidos a los que se han escuchado en cientos de manifestaciones, protestas y foros públicos durante los últimos cinco años.

Es una pena la comunidad tiene que recurrir a medidas tan drásticas como las protestas para declamar sus posiciones, dijo Moretta, agregando que los residentes del este y el sureste están recibiendo tratamiento como ciudadanos de segunda clase.

Notó que Sam Atwood, un vocero para el South Coast Air Quality District Management District (Distrito de Manejamiento de la Calidad del Aire Costa Sur) había etiquetado las áreas contaminadas como las peores que había visto en su vida.

“Tenemos hijos y familias en las calles”, dijo Moretta. “Es hora que empieza hacerlo.”

Reportero de EGP Carlos Alvarez contribuyó a este artículo.

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