World Events

Man charged with arson in San Gabriel Mission fire

A 57-year-old man has been charged with arson in a fire that tore through the historic San Gabriel Mission last summer.

John David Corey faces two felony counts of arson on an inhabited structure and one count each of arson during a state of emergency, first-degree residential burglary and possession of flammable material, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón announced in a news release Tuesday.

A date for Corey’s arraignment has not yet been set. The fire caused severe damage to the roof and interior of the landmark 249-year-old structure.

San Gabriel Fire Department officials, the Verdugo Fire Task Force and the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese scheduled a news conference later Tuesday afternoon.

The fire was reported before dawn on July 11 and eventually become a four-alarm event that involved 80 firefighters from seven cities. Responders had to exit the adobe-and-wood structure only about 15 minutes after entering, when parts of the roof began to cave in, but extinguished the blaze in about 2½ hours. No firefighters were injured.

Preliminary investigations did not indicate arson.

While the altar, bell tower and several religious artifacts were spared, the roof was destroyed, as were many of the 107-year-old pews that had just been refurbished.

Restoration of the mission will include the removal of steel beams, originally inserted in the 1990s as part of an earthquake retrofit, that were warped during the fire.

A temporary roof of wood and a waterproof membrane was installed in late November.

For days after the fire, grief-stricken parishioners stopped by the mission parking lot to cry, pray and reminisce.

“The San Gabriel Mission is one of those places that was a gathering place for people of all faiths here in San Gabriel,” said Denise Menchaca, a parishioner who was mayor at the time and is still on the City Council.

Menchaca said the timing of the fire made dealing with the shock and grief it caused particularly difficult, with COVID-19 limiting in-person gatherings and some parishioners’ feelings still raw about the police killing of George Floyd.

“This was like our Notre Dame burning,” Menchaca said, referencing the 2019 fire at the Paris cathedral.

The alleged arson is one of a few that has targeted Catholic churches over the last decade, including fires at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights in 2018 and St. John Vianney in Hacienda Heights in 2011.

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