A man from New Jersey was detained on Wednesday night after he was caught entering a New York City cathedral with the intent of starting a fire. The man attempted to walk into St. Patrick's Cathedral, located on the east side of Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, directly across from Rockefeller Center, carrying two gasoline cans, two bottles of lighter fluid, and two lighters.
The cathedral is considered to be a prominent landmark in New York City, as well as one of the most visible symbols of Roman Catholicism in the United States.
The man was identified by police as 37-year-old Marc Lamparello. According to the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism, John Miller, Lamparello parked a minivan on Fifth Avenue at approximately 7:55 PM on Wednesday night. He then walked around the area, returned to the minivan, where pulled out two 2-gallon cans of gasoline, a plastic bag containing two bottles of lighter fluid, and two extended lighters.
He then attempted to enter St. Patrick's Catherdral with the items in hand when he was stopped by a security guard, Miller reported. As Lamparello left the cathedral, some of the gasoline he was holding spilled onto the cathedral floor. The security guard informed two counterterrorism officers outside the cathedral as Lamparello attempted to flee the scene.
As the officers questioned Lamparello, he offered only "inconsistent and evasive" answers regarding why he was carrying the cans of gas, in addition to the other items. According to Miller, "His basic story was that he was cutting through the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue. [He said] his car had run out of gas."
But as police searched Lamparello's vehicle, they discovered he was lying. The car wasn't out of gas. Police have taken Lamparello into custody, but he has not yet been charged, says Miller.
Miller also explained that it was too early in the investigation to determine if terror is considered to be the motive.
"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," he explained to reporters.
Miller indicated that an increased security presence is not unusual at St. Patrick's Cathedral, but considering the devastating events involving a fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday, the NYPD is taking extra precautions.
Police initially commented that Lamparello may have been "emotionally disturbed." Miller also announced that he is "known to police."
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York verified that Lamparello was stopped as he tried to enter the cathedral. "Nothing happened inside the cathedral," confirmed the spokesman.