UPDATE: Police Have Identified Person of Interest in N. Idaho Church Fire, Now Considered Arson 


UPDATE, April 22, 1:54 p.m.:
A day after St. Ann's Catholic Church in Bonners Ferry was burnt to the ground in an early morning explosion, law enforcement officials are investigating the fire as an arson.

A person of interest in the crime was arrested on unrelated charges April 21, but officials had not named the man or why he was brought into custody. 

According to the Spokane, Wash.-based Spokesman Review, Bonners Ferry police said the St. Ann's fire may be connected to earlier instances of vandalism both at St. Ann's and a handful of other area churches over the past year. 

Investigators told the Spokesman they weren't ruling out the possibility that the arson was a hate crime.

Meanwhile, Bishop Peter F. Christensen, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise, issued a statement to media:

Like many of you, we have been following the early morning fire at St. Ann Church, Bonners Ferry. We are happy to report that Father Carlos Perez, parish administrator, was not injured, and neither were there any injuries reported among parishioners or the brave members of the community who fought the fire.

We have been heartened by the prayers and support of the community and of Catholics and others around the state reaching out to the people of St. Ann's in this hour of need. Catholics have worshipped at St. Ann's for more than 120 years. [sic]
According to the Spokesman, Colombia-born Perez has served the north Idaho parish for more than eight years. The damage to his church, which recently underwent renovations, has been valued at more than $1 million. The state fire marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have joined the investigation alongside the Bonners Ferry Fire Department.

UPDATE, April 21, 1:33 p.m.:
Law enforcement officials confirm they have identified a person of interest in connection with the early morning explosion and fire that destroyed St. Ann's Catholic Church in Bonners Ferry.

Asked if the fire was being officially investigated as an arson, a Bonners Ferry police official said it's still too early to say but, "all options are still on the table."

Meanwhile, KHQ-Q6 in Spokane, Wash., reported not only is the church believed to have been intentionally set ablaze, but unnamed fire officials told the station at least three fires had been set in the basement and statues in the church had been defaced.

According to Bonners Ferry police, the parish priest called in the fire and "suffered some minor issues, but he his doing well." It was immediately unclear whether the priest had suffered burns, smoke inhalation or other injury.

Fire crews were still battling the flames as of Thursday afternoon. 

ORIGINAL POST, April 21, 9:42 a.m.:
A north Idaho church was destroyed early Thursday morning in an apparent explosion.

According to reports, the explosion at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Bonners Ferry was reported around 2 a.m. Pacific Time April 21, after which the building burst into flames. KHQ-Q6 in Spokane, Wash., reported this morning that firefighters were on the scene through the night battling the blaze.

The cause of the explosion, which occurred at the church a few blocks east of U.S. Highway 95 in a neighborhood of nearby homes, is still under investigation. No damage to other structures or injuries have been reported.
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