EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The fourth incident involving fires set inside a Catholic Church this year is being investigated by the FBI as a hate crime, according to the priest at St. Thomas Aquinas in East El Paso.

The fire at St. Thomas Aquinas, located at 10970 Bywood Drive, was set around 2 a.m. on Friday, December 6.

According to Father Ed Roden-Lucero, the vandals made their way into the church by breaking the windows in the gathering area. Large landscaping rocks from the church were then used to smash windows in the parish main office and bookkeeping office.

The bookkeeping office was ransacked and a bible was set on fire on a chair inside the office.

A second fire was started by the suspect or suspects on a table that sits below a large framed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The fire badly damaged the picture and caused considerable damage to the wall.

Two crosses, one in the bookkeeper office and another in an adjoining office were turned upside down on the wall and satanic symbols were left at different locations on the outside of windows and glass doors, Father Roden-Lucero said.

The fire and vandalism are being investigated by El Paso Police, El Paso Fire Department Investigators, ATF, and the FBI.

The attack on St. Thomas Aquinas is now the fourth incident involving arson and vandalism at an El Paso Catholic Church in 2019.

The other incidents of arson involving Catholic churches are as follows:

  • May 7 – St. Matthew Catholic Church; 400 W. Sunset
  • May 12 – St. Patrick Cathedral; 1118 N. Mesa
  • June 15 – St. Jude; 4006 Hidden Way
  • December 6- St. Thomas Aquinas; 10970 Bywood