Man Charged With Trying to Set St. Patrick’s on Fire Was Arrested at Newark Cathedral Days Earlier

By Pervaiz.Shallwani@thedailybeast.com (Pervaiz Shallwani) Pilar.Melendez@thedailybeast.com (Pilar Melendez)
TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Days before a 37-year-old philosophy professor allegedly tried to set fire to the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the heart of Manhattan, he was arrested for refusing to leave a church in New Jersey—setting off a bizarre 48 hours for a man who previously had little interaction with law enforcement.

According to an arrest report of the incident at Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart obtained by The Daily Beast, Marc Lamparello was charged Monday night after he refused orders from an Essex County Deputy Sheriff to leave the Newark church.

The cathedral was closing and Lamparello, who was seated in a pew according to the report, allegedly told a sheriff who asked him to leave: “If you want me to leave tonight, you’re gonna have to handcuff me and arrest me tonight and take me to jail.”

A few moments later, as two sheriffs tried to get him to leave, Lamparello apparently threw himself onto a pew and yelled “no.” Then, as officers tried to take him into custody, he resisted, and at one point threw himself onto the church floor, stating, “I’m not leaving. God wants me here. I know all the sins the priests have committed.”

Details of the arrest emerged as authorities in New York charged Lamparello Thursday afternoon with attempted arson, reckless endangerment, and city code violations related to illegally transporting flammable materials in public places. It was not clear when Lamparello would be arraigned. He was transported Thursday afternoon to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital for evaluation, police said.

Police are still working to determine Lamparello’s motive, but John Miller, the head of the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau, said investigators with the NYPD and FBI in New York reviewed the case throughout the night and determined there “doesn’t appear to be any connection to any terrorist group or any terrorist related intent here.”

But, Miller added that based on Lamparello’s movements and the fact he had gasoline, lighter fluid that is used for igniting a grill, and a bag filled with lighters, police believe he was planning to set fire inside St. Patrick’s

“There is significant reason to doubt the veracity of his statements and his intent with those items seem to be to set a fire,” he said.

Police were particularly concerned since the incident took place days after an accidental fire destroyed parts of Notre Dame in Paris.

“You would have to say from our standpoint...there was certainly attention to that when  he showed up at an iconic church,” Miller said, adding that he could not say that Lamparello made any statements related to the Notre Dame fire.

The charges capped a bizarre two days for Lamparello, who teaches philosophy and published a book on the subject titled Reason and Counterpoint, in 2016. Before Monday his only run-ins with the law included a drug possession charge in 2005, a senior law-enforcement official said.

Lamparello has worked as a professor at several colleges and universities, including Brooklyn College, Seton Hall University, and Lehman College, where he is a part-time online professor lecturer and PhD candidate in the philosophy department. The schools confirmed Lamparello’s previous or current employment.

“We are aware that an individual was arrested last night after an incident at St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” Lehman College spokesperson Sarah Ramsey said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “The individual was hired at Lehman College during this academic year and was a part-time online instructor this semester.”

After his arrest, however, Lehman confirmed that it will terminate Lamparello’s employment with the college.

The New Jersey native has ties to the Catholic Church. As recently as 2013, Lamparello was the music director at St. Joseph’s Church in East Rutherford, New Jersey, according to a church bulletin posted online. Church bulletins suggest he was in the role for at least three years, beginning in 2011. The church did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

It all seemed to unravel around 10:30 p.m. Monday when he was approached by police in Newark. According to the arrest report in New Jersey, Lamparello was charged with resisting arrest and obstruction and released after being evaluated by medics that responded to the scene. Lamparello did not have any flammable materials in New Jersey, police said.

Miller said police determined that Lamparello has homes in both New York and New Jersey but had been living in a hotel the past few days.

Investigators also learned that on Wednesday morning before he left for New York, Lamparello booked a $2,800 flight to Italy that would have departed at 5:20 p.m. Thursday, Miller said.

The NYPD determined that Lamparello arrived in the area near St. Patrick’s around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night, Miller said. Surveillance video from the area and security cameras at the building show his van circling the block as well as getting in and out of the vehicle.

Around 7.55 p.m., Miller said he returned to the van, opened a back door and took out the two cans of gasoline, two containers of lighter fluid, and a bag filled with lighters. About a minute later, he entered St. Patrick’s Cathedral through the front door and walked about 20 feet before he was confronted by a church usher.

“He is approached by the usher, who is working at the front door, who tells him he cannot proceed into the cathedral with these items,” Miller said. “When he puts it down, some of it spills on the floor. He picks it up and leaves.”

The usher then alerted members of the NYPD’s counterterrorism bureau who were stationed outside. Two officers followed Lamparello down 50th Street and engaged him in a conversation for “some time” in an effort to vet his story and locate his vehicle, Miller said.

“He explains that he was trying to locate his vehicle, that his vehicle was out of gas,” Miller said. “That’s why he possessed the gasoline. At this point he is walking away from his vehicle, which is parked on Fifth Avenue, and not towards it.”

The officers determined that Lamparello’s van was not out of gas or located in the direction that he was heading and arrested him for questioning, Miller said.

Concerned, members of the joint terrorism task force, which includes the FBI and the NYPD, questioned Lamparello through the night, before determining that the incident appeared to be isolated.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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