A New Jersey man walked into the century-old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City Wednesday night with four gallons of gasoline, a few bottles of lighter fluid, and a handful of lighters, according to police. A security officer forced him to leave.
Moments later, New York City Police counterterrorism officers detained the 37-year-old man, who hasn’t been identified, according to John Miller, the department’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism. It’s unclear whether the man has been charged with a crime yet.
"It's hard to say what his intentions were, but 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, adding the man was known to police and may have been emotionally disturbed.
The security presence at the cathedral in midtown Manhattan was already ramped up when the man pulled up his minivan on Fifth Avenue and tried to bring the items inside, according to NBC-4 New York. He told police he was merely trying to cut through the cathedral and that his van was out of gas. Police reportedly checked his vehicle, and it was not out of gas.
The cathedral first opened in 1879, and Pope Francis became the fourth pontiff to visit, in September 2015, during his first trip to the United States. The church is also the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
Days earlier, a fire tore through Paris’ 850-year-old Notre Dame cathedral, although there’s currently no reason to suspect that fire was set intentionally. Parisian authorities consider the blaze — which destroyed the cathedral’s spire and roof — accidental, since the church was undergoing extensive repairs and was especially prone to fire.
Cover image: The materials the man allegedly brought into St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo provided by the New York Police Department)