Church arson arrest made
Police arrested a man allegedly responsible for two fires at a Pembroke Road church last week. Forty-three-year-old Wilmer J. Ortiz Torres of West Chew Street in Allentown, arrested Friday, is a former member of the Iglesia Pentecostal de Bethlehem (Pentecostal Church of Bethlehem) and faces charges of trespassing, burglary and arson.
Investigation at the scene using the city’s trained arson dog Silver indicated the use of an accelerate, and video surveillance in the area indicated someone was lingering around the building for about two hours before the second fire began.
According to Police Chief Mark DiLuzio, shortly after midnight April 23, Bethlehem fire and police departments responded to a structure fire at the church, though it had already burned itself out when first responders arrived, and BFD was able to vent the building allowing the smoke to escape in an effort to reduce the damage to the property. There were no reported injuries as church staff and parishioners had left for the night.
Around 2 a.m. April 25, a citizen on the way home from work reported a visible fire at the building. The fire was quickly extinguished and was contained to the roof, DiLuzio said.
In a comment on the church’s Facebook page, Elizabeth Da Silva said she was driving by the church and spotted the second fire, then called 911.
“I said to myself that there was no way someone could possibly come back not even two days later and set the church on fire yet again,” she wrote. “I truly hope that this is some malfunction and not arson. For you to be this evil to burn a church not once but twice is really sad.”
But support was also forthcoming. Pastor Dan Miller of the nearby Edgeboro Moravian Church posted, “I wanted to reach out, but I’m not sure how to contact anyone. I’m sorry I missed you all today, but I hope to stop by sometime tomorrow. If we can be of any support to Iglesia Pentecostal De Bethlehem, please let me know (feel free to message me). As sisters and brothers in Christ, we are keeping you all close in prayer. May God’s peace beyond our understanding be with you all.”
According to published reports, Pastor Carmen L. Cruz says the church is fully paid off and they do have insurance. She expects the rebuilding process could take two to three months, but additional help has been arranged by parishioners using a fundraising site, gofundme.com/iglesia-pentecostal-de-bethlehem.