Man arrested for allegedly setting church on fire twice

PHOTO: Burnt pews following a fire in Bethlehem, Pa., that broke out at Iglesia Pentecostal De Bethlehem Church on April 23, 2019.PlayApril Gamiz/The Morning Call via AP
WATCH 2 fires break out at Pennsylvania church, arson investigators searching for clues

Police in Pennsylvania have arrested a suspect in connection to two separate arson fires at the same church earlier this week.

Wilmer J. Ortiz Torres, 43, was arrested Friday and charged with arson, burglary and criminal trespass in the two fires that occurred between Tuesday and Thursday at the Iglesia Pentecostal de Bethlehem, police said in a statement.

PHOTO: Burnt pews following a fire in Bethlehem, Pa., that broke out at Iglesia Pentecostal De Bethlehem Church on April 23, 2019. April Gamiz/The Morning Call via AP
Burnt pews following a fire in Bethlehem, Pa., that broke out at Iglesia Pentecostal De Bethlehem Church on April 23, 2019.

The first of the fires erupted on Tuesday just before midnight. Police said that “it appears an individual entered the sanctuary area of the church and intentionally started the fire.”

Although the fire had already burned itself out by the time firefighters arrived, heavy smoke could be seen emanating from the building and firefighters had to vent the building to allow the smoke to escape. There were no injuries reported and the damage appeared to be due mostly to smoke, soot and heat.

Elizabeth Collado, the church minister’s daughter, told ABC Philadelphia station WPVI on Wednesday that the church “never had any problems with anybody around here.”

PHOTO: Elizabeth Collazo, the daughter of Pastor Carmen L. Cruz, walks through the badly damaged church following the fire at Iglesia Pentecostal De Bethlehem Church, April 23, 2019, in Allentown, Pa. April Gamiz/The Morning Call via AP
Elizabeth Collazo, the daughter of Pastor Carmen L. Cruz, walks through the badly damaged church following the fire at Iglesia Pentecostal De Bethlehem Church, April 23, 2019, in Allentown, Pa.

“You know, it makes us cry,” she continued. “We were talking about homelessness before. This feels like homelessness. Where do we go to worship? This is our house of worship.”

The second fire occurred around 2 a.m. Thursday morning. Police said that the fire was extinguished quickly and that it was contained to the roof of the building, where officials said it appeared someone had climbed up and ignited an accelerant.

Torres was arrested Friday in Allentown and arraigned on criminal charges Friday night, police said. It was not immediately clear if he had any connection to the church.