Man accused of targeting New Jersey Catholic churches in vandalism spree

Police say the suspect carried out this spree at three churches in Gloucester and Camden counties.

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Saturday, January 14, 2023
Man accused of targeting Catholic churches in morning vandalism spree
A New Jersey man is facing bias intimidation, arson and other charges after police say he targeted Catholic churches in a vandalism spree on Friday.

WOODBURY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- A suspected vandal targeted three Catholic churches in South Jersey in just a matter of minutes on Friday morning.

Authorities say Peter Sirolli, 40, broke a window and set fires in two of the attacks.

He was arrested on multiple counts including arson, criminal mischief, bias intimidation, desecration of sacred objects and weapons charges.

"We are still actively investigating his social media pages and anything else. We have no ties to any organization that's anti-Catholic at this time. We are not sure what his motivation is," said Gloucester Township Police Chief David Harkins.

Investigators say it began at 7:11a.m. Authorities accuse Sirolli of setting a 10-foot cross on fire on the lawn of St. Patrick's Church in Woodbury.

About 15 minutes later, he then allegedly made his way to St. Teresa's Church in Runnemede, New Jersey where he attempted to throw a rock through a window.

A witness followed the suspect and provided information to police as Sirolli traveled in a white pickup truck to St. Agnes Church in Gloucester Township.

The suspect was seen throwing a brick through the main door window before driving across the parking lot and setting fire to flag pole with American flag.

Norberto Cruz was working maintenance at St. Agnes and says he yelled at the suspect to stop and put out the fire.

"He just keep doing what he was doing. He had a gallon of gasoline. I was able to get part of his tag numbers and call 911," said Cruz.

Police would arrest Sirolli after a slow speed chase in the parking lot of a Seventh Day Adventist Church on Good Intent Road in Deptford, New Jersey. Authorities say gas cans and bricks were found in the bed of his truck.

"We forgive them. We are grateful no one was hurt. We can replace glass," said Father Joseph Szolack of St. Agnes Church.

Despite vandalism, Mass went on as planned Friday morning at St. Agnes Church.

Parishioners throughout South Jersey are still concerned.

"All the gospel readings this week were about Jesus driving out demons and then someone comes along and lights a cross on fire," said Cathy Cacciola, who attends St. Patrick's Church. "I just couldn't believe it, like, isn't there something else you can set on fire? Like an old trash can or something?"

The Diocese of Camden provided this statement to Action News:

"At a time when houses of worship often seem to be the target of individual angst, it is reassuring to know our local police departments take incidents like this so seriously and act quickly. While we do not yet know the motivation of the person currently in custody, I ask the Catholic faithful of South Jersey to offer prayer that he may find peace."

Authorities are looking into if any other churches were possibly vandalized.

Because this involved houses of worship, the ATF is also investigating.