Nov 15, 2012 9:36 PM by Connie Tran, KSBY News

Santa Maria parishioners react to church vandalism and fire

Members of the parish at St John Neumann Catholic Church in Santa Maria reacted Thursday night to the vandalism and fire at their place of worship.

The Santa Maria Fire Department said the fire broke out at 3:30 Thursday morning. They believe the suspect is 24-year old Amanda Ruiz. They said Ruiz allegedly broke into the back door of the church and set fire to donation baskets and liturgy books. They said when firefighters entered the building filled with smoke, they found Ruiz playing the piano.

Santa Maria Fire Chief Dan Orr said, "I think it probably scared the first in company, just from a perspective, that's very outside our norm."

Orr said Ruiz was arrested by the Santa Maria Police Department, but not without a fight.

"She was very combative from a perspective of, I think it took several officers to get her in the back of the car, very much not knowing where she's at or what she was doing."

SMPD said narcotics paraphernalia was recovered from within the church, and Chief Orr said he believed Ruiz was under the influence of a controlled substance. He also said he believed Ruiz had just been released from county jail days prior. The Santa Barbara Superior Courts said her prior jail stay was in regard to participating in a criminal street gang.

Many parish members stopped by the church on Thursday to help clean up the mess.

"We just pick up the pieces and take it one day at a time, and continue to go, this is not going to stop anything," said Martin Garcia, who was married at St John Neumann and has been going there for over 10 years.

He said he is mostly sad about the situation, but said he prayed for the suspect during a morning mass.

"We prayed for her, I offered my own prayer for her in the morning mass, we offered a collective prayer for this person, that they can change, that they can feel bad for their trespass," said Garcia.

Garcia said the incident will not shake his faith, and he's thankful the entire structure of the church remains.

Ruiz is facing burglary, arson, and felony vandalism charges.



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