Last night, Marc Lamparello of New Jersey was caught by authorities carrying four gallons of gasoline, lighters and lighter fluid into St. Patrick’s cathedral, the historic midtown church in New York City.
According to authorities, he arrived around 6:30 p.m. and then waited until nearly 8:00 p.m. to try to enter the structure but was quickly intercepted by church security guards.
The New York Post reported:
He turned around, but spilled some gas in the process, prompting the guards to alert counter-terrorism cops stationed outside the church.
When questioned, Lamparello claimed he was simply cutting through the church to get to Madison Avenue because his van, which was parked outside on Fifth Avenue, ran out of gas, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said at a press conference outside St. Pat’s Wednesday night.
But his tan mini-van was not out of fuel and his “answers were inconsistent and evasive, although he remained conversational with them and cooperative,” Miller said.
“I think the totality of circumstances of [an] individual walking into an iconic location like St. Patrick’s Cathedral carrying over four gallons of gasoline, two bottles of lighter fluid and lighters is something that we would have great concern over,” Miller said.
The incident is “very suspicious” — especially given it came just two days after Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral erupted in flames, Miller noted.
“His story is not consistent, so he’s having conversations with the detectives right now. I think if you add to that the events at the iconic location of the fire in Notre Dame this week and all the publicity around that,” he said.
Lamparello is a CUNY student seeking his Ph.D. in philosophy, and has done stints as an adjunct lecturer at Lehman College and has a history of writing arguments for belief in God and atheism.
According to officials, police initially recovered two red, two-gallon cans of gasoline, as well as a bag containing two bottles of Kingsford lighter fluid and a pair of barbecue lighters, but a third gas can was found inside the man’s van.
Surveillance video showed the timeframe. Lamparello parked outside the church earlier, and then sluffed around before going back to his van and getting the fire starting tools.
“That’s insane. People are crazy,” said a passerby who gave the name Alana and said she is a Catholic.
Lamparello is “known to police,” according to Miller. He has two prior arrests in New Jersey for criminal trespass and public drunkenness, sources added.
He was taken to Midtown North for questioning.
Mayor Bill de Blasio Wednesday night praised the NYPD’s quick response.
“Thank you to @NYPDnews for the swift response. We are all focused on keeping our congregations and houses of worship safe as they celebrate this Holy Week,” de Blasio tweeted.
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is assisting the NYPD in the investigation, though there was no immediate indication it was terror-related, Miller said.
Miller added, “There was some very good work done here, obviously by the St. Patrick’s Cathedral security officer who encountered this man immediately inside, as well as the two CRC police officers who tracked him down, engaged him in conversation, questioned him, located the vehicle and took him into custody.”
Miller also confirmed that there is always heightened security at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “That is normal,” he said, “We’ve added to that in recent days and I think this is an indicator of something that would be very suspicious.”
Such actions are only common sense, given the rise in terror-related attacks against houses of worship.