FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Arson is suspected in a fire that destroyed a Franklin Lakes church during the early morning hours on Wednesday.
Authorities responded to the fire at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish Church around 1:30 a.m. at 787 Franklin Lake Road.
Hours after flames destroyed the house of worship, construction equipment was brought in to tear down what was left. Parishioners came from near and far to see the destruction for themselves.
“It’s gone. It’s very upsetting,” Mary Grace Cinquino told CBS2’s Nick Caloway.
Some members have been coming to the church for decades. Cinquino is one of them.
“We grew up here. My kids grew up here. It’s part of our family. I don’t know where to go now,” she said.
For many, Most Blessed Sacrament is more than a place of worship. It’s a place where family memories were made, both happy and sad. The funeral for Jeff Mangold’s daughter was held there.
“It’s just devastating. I can’t believe it … I can’t believe it,” Mangold said.
Michelle Maloof got married at the church, and had her child baptized here.
“It’s heart-wrenching. I mean, we come every Sunday, Maloof said.
Police said the fire was intentionally set by James Mayers, 26, from Franklin Lakes. Investigators said they believe Mayers broke in and used gasoline and a cigarette lighter to start the blaze. He was arrested at the scene and charged with aggravated arson and burglary, Caloway reported.
No motive was released.
Parishioners were left heartbroken that someone would do this intentionally.
“It’s disgusting. It really is. To think somebody would do this to a church right before Christmas, it’s just not right,” Cinquino said.
Church staff and volunteers spent the morning salvaging what they could from the rubble, including Christmas presents for needy families the church had been collecting. Leaders from nearby churches and synagogues came by to offer support and space to worship.
Church members that spoke to Caloway said it may look bad now, but they’re certain the community will rally and rebuild the church.