Man Crashes into Ocala Parish and Starts Fire

PHOTO: Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Fla., is seen July 13, 2020, after it was set ablaze by a suspect who drove his van through the front doors two days earlier. (CNS photo/courtesy The Florida Catholic) 

On Saturday morning, July 11, a man drove his van through Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala – not far from Queen of Peace Parish in Gainesville, which is located in the Diocese of St. Augustine. The man then set a fire inside the church before he drove away. Parishioners were inside the church during the incident, but no one was injured.

Father Patrick O’Doherty, the pastor of Queen of Peace Parish, was walking around the church grounds, while five parishioners were inside the church praying the rosary about an hour before the 8:30 a.m. Mass began.

Father O’Doherty saw a white van crash into the front doors of the church, a man get out of the vehicle, enter the building and walk out with a fire blazing behind him.

The suspect is 24-year-old, Anthony Steven Shields. Once inside the building, the Dunnellon resident poured gasoline into the foyer of the church, lit a shoe on fire, and threw it into the gas. The entrance and some hand-painted artwork sustained significant damage.

Shields fled the scene, but Marion County police quickly apprehended him. He is being held at Marion County jail without bail. The suspect said he was on a “mission” and that he had problems with the Catholic Church. He also said he has schizophrenia and has not been taking medication. And while officials have not termed the incident a hate crime, the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement are investigating the matter further.

Click on the link below to view a video produced by the Diocese of Orlando with Bishop John Noonan and Father Patrick O’Doherty.