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Man Who Brought Gas Cans Into St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York Now in Custody

A New Jersey man entering St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City with two full two-gallon cans of gasoline was arrested on Wednesday night, police said.

st-patricks-cathedral_getty-Waring Abbott : Contributor
(Photo: Waring Abbott / Contributor, Getty)

The 37-year-old man, who was also carrying two bottles of lighter fluid and two extended butane lighters, entered the cathedral just before 8 p.m., but was turned away by a church security officer, according to John Miller, the Police Department's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism. As the man exited, some gasoline spilled on the floor.

The security officer then notified two police officers outside, who caught up to the man and questioned him. Miller said at a news conference that the man was cooperative, but his answers were inconsistent and evasive.

“His basic story was that he was cutting through the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue, that his car had run out of gas,” Miller said. “We took a look at the vehicle. It was not out of gas, and at that point he was taken into custody.”

The man was uninjured and the church was undamaged, but the incident drew a heavy police response. About a dozen officers gathered on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 50th Street in Midtown, while another officer directed traffic at the corner. Another six officers stood outside the entrance to the church.

“The individual was stopped as he tried to come into the cathedral,” the Archdiocese of New York said in a statement. The man “was turned over to the police," the statement continued. "Nothing happened inside the cathedral."

Charges were not immediately filed against the man, whose name the police did not release. "He is known to the police," Miller said.

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The incident occurred two days after a fire burned through the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Investigators are still looking into the cause of that fire, which burned through about two-thirds of the roof and took down the famous spire, but it is believed it be accidental.

St. Patrick's Cathedral seats about 2,200 people and opened its doors in May 1879.