Charges filed in St. Matthew Church fire

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | May 1, 2019

Three counts filed against 18-year-old

ALLOUEZ – Mackenzie Guillen, 18, was formally charged in Brown County Court May 2 on three counts related to the St. Matthew Church fire. The Green Bay resident was charged with one count of arson of a building, one count of burglary and one count of criminal damage to property.

Guillen was ordered to be held on a $10,000 cash bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for May 23.

St. Matthew Church, located at 130 St. Matthews St., was damaged early Wednesday morning, May 1. Fr. Bob Kabat, pastor, said the parish received a call at 1:34 a.m. alerting them to a fire in the church.

A window on the church’s northwest side, located next to the church sanctuary, was shattered. Fr. Kabat said it is unknown if the suspect or suspects entered the church through the broken window.

Easter lilies can be seen inside St. Matthew Church in Allouez through a window that was broken overnight April 30 or May 1. A fire was also reported, which caused smoke damage to the church. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Damage from the fire was minimal, said Penny Dart, parish business administrator. “There is smoke damage in the gathering space and smoke damage in the church and the carpeting,” she said.

“We got a quick response from police (and) the fire department,” said Dart. Diocesan officials were also in contact with the parish early Wednesday morning.

The parish released a statement to parishioners and “friends in the community” shortly after 9 a.m. May 1, stating that police had arrested a suspect.

“The person believed responsible for breaking into the church and causing the fire is in police custody, authorities said. We hope the person receives the help they need. Please keep that person in prayer,” said the statement.

At a press briefing on May 1, Captain Jody Lemmens of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office said the St. Matthew fire was part of string of incidents that began Tuesday evening, April 30. “At 10:30, we received a complaint … where somebody had thrown a wine bottle through a glass window of a residence,” said Lemmens.

At 1:42 a.m., the sheriff’s office received a complaint of a fire alarm at St. Matthew Church. Green Bay Metro Fire Department responded to the call and discovered the broken window, along with smoke and flames, she said.

“They did find that there was a small fire that was set in the entryway. It appeared to be some paperwork and a Bible that was set on fire,” said Lemmens.

Following a search of the premises, which included a sheriff’s K-9 unit, she said no suspects were found. A third complaint was received at 3:35 a.m. “Somebody had taken a large piece of patio furniture and thrown it through the door of a residence,” she said.

The homeowner contacted police and officers responded at 3:41 a.m. “They located the subject and took him into custody,” said Lemmens. She described him as a male in his early 20s, wearing white socks and flip-flops and a black sweat suit. “He is facing charges of burglary, arson and criminal damage of property.”

The parish statement also said that, while police believe the fire was started intentionally, “the authorities feel this wasn’t a crime targeting a religious institution.”

In a statement from the Diocese of Green Bay, Bishop David Ricken said, “I was so disappointed to learn early this morning there was a fire at St. Matthew’s Church in Allouez and that most likely it was caused by an arsonist.”

He said that Fr. Kabat, St. Matthew Parish “and the troubled person who caused this are in my thoughts and prayers.”

The fire caused cancellation of school at Fr. Allouez Catholic School, located adjacent to the church due to smoke damage. Thursday morning Mass, as well as a school musical, will also be cancelled, said Fr. Kabat. He said that weekend liturgies, including two first Communion Masses are expected to proceed as normal.

Fr. Kabat said the parish is grateful no one was injured in the fire. “Thank God the building is still there,” he added.

A Brown County Sheriff’s deputy enters St. Matthew Church in Allouez Wednesday morning following an overnight break-in and fire. A suspect has been arrested in the arson, according to the parish. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

A fire restoration crew will be at the church today to help eliminate smoke damage to the church and school, added Fr. Kabat.

In its statement, the parish gave thanks to local authorities who quickly responded to the incident. “We want to thank our local police, fire and first responders for their assistance to us in this great time of need,” it said.

St. Matthew Church was dedicated in 2003.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated as new details are received.

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