Hate crime charges filed in arson of Latter-day Saint mission car and church

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Men in two states face hate crime charges for arson attacks targeting members and property of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes referred to as Mormons.

Samuel D. Vandeusen, 22, was arrested May 2 in Torrington, Connecticut, after a neighbor getting ready for work at 3 a.m. saw him set fire to a car used by two young Saint missionaries of the last days. He told the police that he didn’t like their beliefs.

Vandeusen faces charges of arson and deprivation of rights because of religion.

Samuel Vandeusen, 22, faces charges of arson and hate crimes after police say he set fire to a car belonging to missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Torrington, Connecticut, May 2, 2022.

Torrington Police Department

Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice announced on May 5 that it had filed federal hate crimes and arson charges against 46-year-old Christopher Scott Pritchard for allegedly burning down a Latter-day Saint church. last year at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Pritchard had previously threatened to burn down the meetinghouse and assault the bishop of a Latter-day Saint congregation meeting there, the Deseret News reported last year.

The Connecticut and Missouri chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the alleged religiously motivated attacks. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had no comment.

The possibility of mental health issues was raised in both cases.

Why did someone set fire to a car used by two Latter-day Saint missionaries?

Mike Pickert was getting ready for work at his home in Torrington, Connecticut, around 3 a.m. on May 2.

“When I looked out the window, I saw someone put a lit rag in the gas tank,” he said. Fox61. “He really caught fire quickly.”

Pickert said he saw Vandeusen set fire to the fuel tank of a new Chevy Equinox belonging to the Boston, Massachusetts Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Equinox was parked outside a house where Vandeusen lived on one floor and Elder Josh Farrell and his fellow missionary lived on another, police said.

Police have charged Samuel D. Vandeusen with a hate crime for setting fire to a car used by two young Latter-day Saint missionaries.

Police charged Samuel D. Vandeusen with a hate crime for setting fire to a car used by two young Latter-day Saint missionaries in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 2, 2022. He told police he did not like their beliefs.

Pickert called the police. When they arrived, they asked him if he knew who had started the fire. Torrington Police Detective. Kevin Tieman shared Pickert’s response with the Deseret News.

“Yes,” he said, pointing to a window. “He’s up there watching it.”

Police arrested Vandeusen and he confessed, Tieman said. They also woke up the missionaries. Farrell told them that he and his fellow missionary knew Vandeusen by the way. They exchanged greetings but did not discuss religion, according to the American Republican of Waterbury.

Pickert told police and reporters that the missionaries were friendly.

“There is no reason for that. There is simply no reason for it. Everybody gets along,” Pickert told Fox61.

But Vandeusen told police he had a problem with Latter-day Saints and their religious beliefs and wanted to see the Equinox “explode,” the American Republican reported.

“His confession was very simple,” Tieman said. “He didn’t believe in Mormon ideologies or Mormon beliefs. The only reason he committed the crime against someone was because of religion.

Torrington Superior Court Judge Chris Pelosi ordered Vandeusen to hold $250,000 bond. He also ordered a mental capacity test, according to court records.

“He’s getting help through the court,” Tieman said.

Vandeusen is being held at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, Connecticut, said Andrius Banevicius, public information officer for the Connecticut Department of Corrections.

Garner Institution houses inmates with acute mental health issues, Banevicius said. Each inmate is rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 indicating the most acute problems.

“He’s a 5,” Banevicius said.

The Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the alleged religious bias.

“Americans of all faiths should be free to share their faith without fear of intimidation or attack,” said Farhan Memon, president of CAIR-Connecticut. mentioned in a report. “We condemn this alleged bias-motivated attack and urge community leaders to speak out against the kind of bigotry that inevitably leads to such incidents.”

In addition to arson and deprivation of rights, including religious rights, Vandeusen faces charges of criminal mischief and breach of the peace.

Vandeusen is due in court on July 11 to enter a plea.

Why did the Justice Department file hate crime charges in the arson attack on a Latter-day Saint place of worship?

The Ministry of Justice issued a press release on May 5 title“Missouri Man Charged with Federal Hate Crime and Arson for Burning Church.”

Pritchard is charged with intentionally interfering with the free exercise of religious beliefs by members of the Cape Girardeau Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to court documents.

“We welcome the hate crime charges in this despicable attack on a place of worship,” CAIR-Missouri Board Chairman Yasir Ali said. mentioned in a report. “We stand in solidarity with the Mormon community and all those who are targeted by bigotry and hatred.”

Pritchard allegedly harassed church members and people at a nearby university in early April 2021.

Court documents say Pritchard allegedly threatened to use a brick to strike the head of the Cape Girardeau neighborhood bishop and set fire to the church meeting hall.

Southeast Missouri State University banned Pritchard from campus on April 16. Two days later, the fire consumed the church, which was a total loss.

A couple in a nearby building saw smoke coming out of the church and reported the fire around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday evening April 18, 2021. They told police they saw a man with a backpack watching the church at the time, according to police reports and court documents.

Another couple stopped a sheriff’s deputy’s car to report a suspicious man with a backpack driving away from the fire. Their description matched that given by the couple who reported the fire, police said. southeastern Missouri.

The deputy found Pritchard walking on a road about 1.5 miles from the church and took him to the sheriff’s office, where court documents say he admitted to threatening the bishop but denied stealing the church and set it on fire.

Police also said they found items taken from the church in Pritchard’s backpack, including a laptop, projector, speakers, extension cords, apples and a cheese grater, according to KFVS12.

The church was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.

The Southeastern Missourian published a photo gallery of the fire.

“We stood in the parking lot and watched the church burn, and there were a lot of tears,” Bishop John Fulton said. Told Church News. Fulton’s first day as bishop was the day of the fire.

The congregation became itinerant, meeting first at the Osage Community Center in Cape Girardeau, then at Southeast Missouri State University, then at the former Metro Business College. The stake conference was held at the Drury Plaza Conference Center.

If convicted, Pritchard faces up to 20 years in prison for obstructing the rights of the congregation and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for using fire to commit a federal crime. Pritchard also faces a fine of up to $250,000 for each charge.

Pritchard’s sister Told a Missouri television station last year that she and her brother were raised in the church. She said her brother had been homeless for two years and suffered from mental illness. She denied the hate crime charge.

Court records do not indicate whether Pritchard underwent a mental health examination.

Christopher Scott Pritchard is facing federal hate crime and arson charges for a fire at a Latter-day Saint church in Missouri.

The Department of Justice recently charged Christopher Scott Pritchard with hate crime and arson in connection with a fire that burned down a place of worship of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, April 18, 2021 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office

Cape Girardeau County District Attorney Mark Welker charged Pritchard with property damage motivated by discrimination, arson, burglary and theft of $750 or more, all felonies. Welker alleged that Pritchard was “knowingly motivated to (set the fire) because of a motive related to the religion of people who worship at the Church of Latter-day Saints”, according to KFVS-TV.

A judge found probable cause after a preliminary hearing last June and bound Pritchard for trial. The trial is scheduled for October.

However, Pritchard has now been transferred to federal custody.

The Justice Department statement said the federal charges against Pritchard were the result of an investigation by the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Sheriff’s Office of Cape Girardeau County and the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Pritchard was arrested for a domestic assault in November 2020. He was ordered to have no contact with the victim and was released on his own recognizance. However, he was arrested again a few days later for assaulting the same woman. He pleaded guilty to a single charge in early 2021 and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

How many charges of religiously motivated crimes are filed each year?

According to the Justice Department, law enforcement agencies across the country reported 1,521 incidents of religiously motivated crimes in 2019 and 1,244 in 2020, when crime plummeted during the pandemic. database.

In 2020, the latest year for which data is available, religious motives accounted for 13.3% of reported hate crimes.

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