Florida man drives van into church and starts fire

Queen of Peace Catholic Church foyer [Image credit: Marion County Sheriff’s Office]

Saturday morning people were inside of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida preparing for morning mass when at 7:30 a man drove his van through the front doors.


According to the Marion County Sheriff's Office, 24-year-old Steven Anthony Shields exited his vehicle and poured gasoline over the foyer.  He then started a fire before getting back into his vehicle and driving off.


Responding officers soon located the suspect vehicle and gave chase.  Deputy Gonzalez eventually stopped the vehicle by performing a Precision Immobilization Technique (P.I.T. maneuver) thereby disabling the vehicle.


Shields was taken into custody and remains in the Marion County Jail where he is being held without bond.


According to the Sheriff's Office, the charges currently filed against him are one count of Attempted Second Degree Murder, evidencing prejudice, a First-Degree Felony; one count of Arson to a Structure (where persons are normally present and which the Defendant had reasonable grounds to believe to be occupied by a human being), evidencing prejudice, a Life Felony; one count of Burglary of an Occupied Structure (with intent to commit a forcible felony, with assault while armed, using a motor vehicle as an instrumentality, and causing damage to the structure in excess of $1,000), while evidencing prejudice, a Life Felony; and one count of Felony Fleeing or Attempting to Elude.


The Ocala Star Banner reported that during an interview with sheriff’s Detective John Lightle, Sheilds said that he has been diagnosed as schizophrenic but has not been taking his prescribed medication.

Steven Anthony Shields, 24, of Dunnellon, Florida. [Image credit: Marion County Sheriff's Office]

He is said to have smiled and laughed while describing what he did as "awesome."  He is further said to have referenced several Bible passages including the book of Revelation while calling himself "king" and saying that he was on a "mission."


Shields is further said to have admitted that he knew what he was doing was wrong, but planned to do it anyway.  He had evidently purchased the gasoline that same morning.


According to the Sheriff's office, it does not appear as though Shields was a member of the church though he is reported to have been seen in the parking lot on several occasions.


The Orlando dioceses issued a statement saying, “We praise God that no one was injured. We join in prayer for Father O’Doherty, the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church, our first responders and the gentleman who caused this damage. May we come to know the Peace of the Lord.”


Despite the damage to the foyer, the church has resumed it's normal activities including Mass Saturday night.