Suffolk church burns

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 8, 2005

Why would anyone break into the St. Mary’s Catholic Church?

Why would anyone steal a pair of television sets, and even a case of sacramental wine used for mass?

And if that weren’t enough, why would they allegedly set the building on fire afterward?

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On Friday morning, pastor Lou Ruoff and his parish tried to think of answers to these questions.

&uot;I feel terrible and my people feel terrible,&uot; said Ruoff, as police, firefighters and members of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau investigated (setting fire to a church is a federal offense). &uot;I feel angry internally, but I can’t allow it to be aimed wrongfully. I can take solace in that no one was hurt, that the church is still standing, and that it could have been worse.&uot;

Fire trucks arrived at the scene just before 4 a.m. to find a room off the main alter burning. That room, according to Fire Department spokesman Jim Judkins, was &uot;pretty much gutted,&uot; and the upstairs, sanctuary and fellowship hall sustained heavy smoke damage.

&uot;The fire burned a door right off the hinges,&uot; Judkins said. &uot;Everything points to arson.&uot; He said that the fire was under control by 6 a.m. Damage was estimated at $100,000. No one was injured.

&uot;I’m shocked by the whole thing,&uot; said Sgt. J.J. Marx, a member of the roughly 225-family parish. &uot;It’s just shocking that people would go so low as to set it on fire. To break into a religious facility, whether it’s a church, synagogue, or what, is so low. This is a place people go for solace.&uot;

Marx and fire investigator Meg Bunting had to sift through the debris of their own church.

&uot;This is a shame,&uot; said Bunting, who got married in the church roughly two years ago. &uot;I’m very disappointed in the people that did this, but we’ll forgive them. We have a strong parish, and we’ll rebuild.&uot;

At press time, police had no suspects, though Judkins reported that a trail of evidence of a suspected burglary had been discovered scattered in the 100 block of Linden Avenue. Ruoff said that his church would temporarily move to Baker’s Funeral Home on West Washington Street.