Suspect arrested in church fire

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | May 7, 2019

Family of suspect meets with St. Matthew pastor, apologizes

ALLOUEZ — Mackenzie Guillen, 18, was formally charged in Brown County Court May 2 on three counts related to a fire set at St. Matthew Church early Wednesday morning, May 1. 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.

Pete Opichka, owner of Square One Restoration, moves a fan from the area inside the gathering space of St. Matthew Church in Allouez where Mackenzie Guillen started a small fire on May 1. A section of carpeting, measuring about seven feet by 12 feet, was removed. The restoration company began ventilating the church, which sustained extensive smoke damage, on May 1 following the break-in and fire. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Members of Guillen’s family met with Fr. Bob Kabat, pastor of St. Matthew Parish, May 3 to apologize on the suspect’s behalf and to discuss his mental health.

“My decision to meet with the pastor was to explain our family’s situation and what was going on with Mackenzie,” Destiny Blanz told The Compass in an email May 5. “I also went to apologize on my family’s and Mackenzie’s behalf.”

Fr. Kabat said the meeting went well.

“They wanted to let us know who Mackenzie is and the struggles he has,” Fr. Kabat told The Compass May 7. “I said to them that we forgive him and that we are praying for him and the family, and that we hope he gets the help he needs. That’s the key. It was a wonderful meeting, very courageous on their part.”

Blanz said Guillen is the son of her father’s girlfriend. She and her stepsister spoke to Fr. Kabat. “I consider Mackenzie my own family, as I lived with him for about five years before he moved in with his sister,” she said.

“Mackenzie suffers from severe PTSD, dissociative identity disorder, depression and anxiety,” said Blanz. “He has been an inpatient four times in 14 months. … We have begged and pleaded with police and mental health officials to please help us help him get the help he needed, but they said it wasn’t a crime to be in psychosis.”

She said Guillen was given a new medication and taken off two others a few weeks ago and believes this contributed to his psychotic behavior. “One of the side effects of his medication, Abilify, which is injected like a shot, is impulsiveness, meaning he does not know what he is doing and does not realize how much time has passed sometimes.”

Need for Mental health awareness

Blanz said her family is sorry for what happened, but asks people to find compassion for people with mental illness.

“The word about mental illness needs to be heard. One in four adults has at least one mental illness such as depression, anxiety or more severe things like PTSD,” she said. “Most people in jails are being untreated because they don’t know how to go about treatment or even ask for treatment. This is something that should be normalized and not be shamed.”

According to Blanz, Fr. Kabat offered his support to the family.

“Our meeting with the pastor went incredibly well,” she said. “He explained that, even with the situation, he forgives Mackenzie and does not think (negatively) of him, that he is welcome back into the church — as long as the court order allows — if it would help him in his further healing. He also said he doesn’t believe that Mackenzie deserves jail time, but deserves to get the help that he truly needs.”

Inaccurate information reported

Blanz first responded to news of the fire on her Facebook page May 3, partly to clarify information reported on local news outlets. One TV station released Guillen’s name “even though the sheriff’s department did not want it released and (others) had not known 100% if it was him,” she said.

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)

News reports also erroneously stated that a Bible was burned and that several fires were started, she said. “There were no Bibles burned, only raffle tickets and pamphlets. There was one very small fire and this incident was not done out of terrorism, malicious intent or because he wanted to cause harm,” she said. Fr. Kabat confirmed that no Bibles were burned in the fire.

Guillen had also pleaded for help the night of the incident, said Blanz.

“When he visited the last house and asked them to call the police, he told (the homeowner) to ‘Please get help, I need help. Please call for help.’”

Fr. Kabat said the parish received a call May 1 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.

Minimal damage to church

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., 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 a 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.

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.

Bishop Ricken responds

In a statement from the Diocese of Green Bay May 1, 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.”

Pete Opichka, owner of Square One Restoration, removes a duct May 3 that was fastened to the broken window at St. Matthew Church in Allouez. The restoration company began ventilating the church, which sustained extensive smoke damage, on May 1 following the break-in and fire. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The fire caused cancellation of school at Fr. Allouez Catholic School, located adjacent to the church due to smoke damage. Weekend liturgies May 4 and 5, including two first Communion Masses proceeded as usual.

Pete Opichka, owner of Square One Restoration and member of St. Matthew Parish, was on site beginning May 1 to help eliminate smoke damage to the church and school. “This (fire) hit home, literally,” Opichka, who lives near the church, told The Compass May 3.

Visit from Islamic community

During weekend Masses May 4 and 5, Fr. Kabat told parishioners that he was thankful no one was injured in the fire. “We are very blessed and we thank everybody for their prayers,” he said.

At the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, four members of the Islamic community, Green Bay Masjid, including the society’s imam, visited St. Matthew Parish and offered words of solidarity and support, said Fr. Kabat.

The unexpected guests spoke after Fr. Kabat’s closing announcements and presented the parish with two bouquets of flowers. “I was completely surprised,” said Fr. Kabat. “I was told at Communion time that these four gentlemen wanted to bring flowers. They reflected, in light of the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, the fire at Notre Dame, synagogues and other places being attacked, they wanted to show solidarity and unity for all people,” he said.

St. Matthew Church was dedicated in 2003.

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