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Masses canceled when firecrackers found in and outside vandalized GH church

Becky Vargo • Dec 30, 2018 at 1:26 PM

Masses were canceled Sunday morning at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Grand Haven after a vandal was arrested and fireworks were found strewn around the buildings.

Both the 9 and 11 a.m. masses were canceled at the church located along Beacon Boulevard next to Fulton Street.

Grand Haven Public Safety Officers responded to St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday on a report of a disorderly person in the building.

Police found that the man had vandalized the inside of the building, breaking a couple flat screen televisions in the process. The sanctuary portion of the building was not vandalized, Hawke said.

The suspect, a 32-year-old Newaygo County man, broke a chair and used a dowel from it in an attempt to assault a church employee. The employee had to fend off the attacker and was not injured, Hawke said.

The man also threatened police when they responded, the director said. That’s when officers used a Taser to subdue and arrest the man.

The suspect also placed M5000 "jumbo" firecrackers in multiple locations inside and outside the building, Hawke said. M5000 firecrackers are available commercially and are ignited with a fuse.

Police recovered more than five of the jumbo firecrackers and a baggie full of the smaller, M-80-style explosives, some of which had been placed by the doors, Hawke said. He noted, during an early afternoon press conference, that the larger devices were about five inches long and a couple of inches in diameter.

The explosives were not big enough to cause structural damage, but could cause a fire or harm a person, the director said.

The building was evacuated until an explosives-sniffing K-9 unit from the Michigan State Police conducted a search. No other explosive devices were found and police declared the building safe to enter by noon.

Hawke said it was unknown what the man’s motives were and it did not appear that he had any connection to the church, or that he was doing this for religious reasons.

“The behavior is bizarre,” Hawke said. “Officers felt he may be under the influence of a controlled substance, along with the possible mental health issues.”

Hawke said that the man did have a criminal history involving other police agencies.

The director noted that the church doors were unlocked in preparation for the morning services.

The churches often have their doors open in order to supply spiritual guidance and help for those in need, Hawke said.

“For a church, it’s a very difficult balance between security and maintaining that open environment,” he added.

Hawke emphasized that his department has a good working relationship and that many of the churches have participated in emergency trainings.

The man’s name was not released pending his arraignment.

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