By Shirin Rajaee

MODESTO (CBS13) — A Modesto church was vandalized and set on fire by one of its own members.

The suspect was employed by the Christ Unity Baptist Church and after a police standoff that lasted several hours on Monday night, he was taken into custody.

“It’s disappointing, we had a lot of expectations for that young man,” said Pastor Nathanial Green.

Green says he’s grateful that no one was hurt, and that his church of 27 years is still standing, but he’s saddened to find out that the suspect was someone the church trusted.

“I’m just amazed at the damage he did,” said Green.

From a couch left blackened to a rare antique Bible destroyed, to clothes that the church had set aside for the homeless burned to ashes –a total of seven fires were started throughout the building.

“I don’t know if he was on drugs, or what he was thinking,” said Pastor.

The suspect was no stranger to Christ Unity Baptist Church. In fact, 57-year-old Theodore Garcia was someone they depended on and cared for. He was employed as a caretaker of the church.

“To do such a thing, as much as he says he loves the church and loves us–to do this, we are just saddened for him, it hurts,” said Pastor Green.

Modesto fire, police and the swat team all responded late Monday night to the 1300 block of L Street. For about the first three hours, fire crews say they couldn’t go inside until a police standoff with the armed suspect who had a knife was over.

“He was not cooperative, law enforcement used the SWAT team, and they were able to coax him out of the building at some point,” said Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Darin Jesberg.

Jesberg says, fortunately, the church’s sprinklers helped save the building.

“The Sprinklers kept the fire in check during the standoff, keeping it from spreading to the rest of the structure,” he said.

Now carefully treading through standing water, church leaders are working to get their home fixed as soon as possible.

And Garcia is facing arson and vandalism charges. He was booked into the Stanislaus County Jail with bail set at $200,000.


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