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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - After allegedly attempting to set fire to Westgate New Testament Church in Florida on Thursday morning, Hector Luis Trujillo told a sheriff’s deputy that he wanted to make a confession.
“I started the fire because the church has bad people — they are devil worshipers — (and) I had to do something,” Trujillo said, according to an arrest report.
Trujillo remains in the Palm Beach County Jail, where he is facing charges of first-degree arson and burglary resulting in more than $1,000 of damage. Judge Caroline Shepherd ordered Trujillo, who is homeless, to undergo a mental-health evaluation.
Cheri Frost has been a congregant at the church — which holds services in Spanish and English — for two years and was married there. On Friday morning, Frost surveyed in disbelief the damage that ruined a nursery and Sunday school on the first floor of the two-floor building.
“We’re devastated,” Frost said. “This is for the kids. How do you explain to the children that someone came into their safe environment, God’s house, and did something like this?”
A man driving by the church Thursday morning witnessed Trujillo standing outside the nursery and throwing a flaming object inside. The witness dialed 911 and followed Trujillo until deputies arrested him while he was hiding outside a home on the 2600 block of Hiwatha Avenue, along Osceola Drive and near West Gate Elementary School.
Residents whose homes border the church ran over and helped put out two fires that were set by Trujillo, according to a church official.
Sergio Fuentes, minister for Westgate’s Spanish-language congregation, said Trujillo is unknown to members of the church.
“It’s sad that something so dark could be in somebody’s heart,” said Fuentes, who has ministered at the church for nine years. “We’re trying to help the community. There’s a way to find solutions to the troubles in one’s life, but violence and destruction are certainly not among them.”
Fuentes said one of the fires was set by stacking books used for Sunday school in a pile and setting them on fire. The arrest report estimated damage to be at least $1,500, but Fuentes said it could end up being far costlier.
Between its Spanish- and English-language congregations, the church has about 80 members.
“We’re a small congregation with very limited means,” Frost said. “We’re all going to have to come together.”
The church has been targeted before, Fuentes said. Last Halloween night, someone broke in and stole $8,000 worth of musical instruments and equipment. Church employees and congregants have had their cars broken into as well, Fuentes said.
“This community has been left behind,” Fuentes said. “That’s why these things are happening.”
Court records show that Trujillo, 24, has been arrested eight times in Palm Beach County since 2011. He was sentenced to 28 days in jail in May 2014 after being found guilty of battery, possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.
“We don’t harbor any ill will towards him,” Frost said. “We’re a loving church. We want him to get help. We don’t hate him. Who are we to judge?”