Days after a fire broke out at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the New York Police department has apprehended a man outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral who attempted to enter the church while carrying containers of gas.
According to NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller, the individual was encountered by Saint Patrick’s security officers as he was entering the church around 8 p.m. local time. The man, who was not identified by police, was reportedly carrying two gasoline canisters, two bottles of lighter fluid and two lighters.
When a security officer stopped the man and refused to allow the man entry while carrying the cannisters, he turned and gasoline reportedly spilled onto the floor, Miller said.
“The individual was stopped as he tried to come into the cathedral. He was turned over to the police. Nothing happened inside the cathedral,” the New York Archdiocese said in a statement to local media.
The security officer informed NYPD counterterrorism officers stationed outside the church, who quickly caught up with the man on 50th Street and questioned him. “His answers were inconsistent and evasive, although he remained conversational with [the officers] and cooperative,” Miller said.
In speaking to the NYPD officers, the suspect allegedly claimed he was attempting to cut through the cathedral via its Fifth Avenue entrance in order to get to Madison Avenue as his car had run out of gas. Miller said officers inspected the car, which was parked on Fifth Avenue, and discovered it was not out of gas. The officers then took the suspect into custody and the individual was taken to the Midtown North police station.
Around 7:55pm, a man walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan with gas cans and lighter fluid, and was subsequently apprehended by @NYPDCT without incident. We thank our partners for their help, and remember – if you see something, say something. pic.twitter.com/qEbmklnqzQ
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) April 18, 2019
Miller told reporters it is too early to consider terrorism as a motive for the actions of the suspect. “It’s hard to say exactly 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,” Miller said.
The suspect remains in custody of the NYPD and is currently being questioned by detectives, Miller said. While the individual has not been charged with a crime, Miller said he is known to police and that an investigation is ongoing into his background.
The investigation will be conducted by the NYPD’s detective, intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus, as well as the FBI’s joint-terrorism task force, something which Miller said is being done “out of an abundance of caution because we don’t know exactly what his mindset was, what his motive was.”
“What we do know is that carrying two cans of gasoline and the equipment to light that through a public area in a place like St. Patrick’s Cathedral is something that presents a danger to the public,” Miller said.
The incident comes during Holy Week, one of the most important weeks of the Christian faith. St. Patrick’s Cathedral opened to the public in 1879 after 21 years of construction. It is visited by five million people each year.