Former janitor charged with burning church in Grand Rapids, Minn.

By John Myers

A disgruntled former church janitor was charged Thursday with starting a fire that caused $50,000 in damage to United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids last month.

Authorities say Robert Evans Shepard told them he also threw eggs at the window of the church pastor’s office, ran over a handicapped parking sign in the parking lot and left a red-painted doll stabbed with a kitchen knife on the church baptismal font.

Shepard, 66, of Grand Rapids was charged in an Itasca County courtroom with first-degree felony arson for the July 27 blaze that caused an estimated $50,000 in damage.

Shepard remains in the Itasca County Jail pending $50,000 bail.

According to the criminal complaint, starting the fire in a closet was the last in a string of vandalism Shepard conducted after losing his job with the church. He said he also was upset that his wife, the church’s worship committee chairwoman, had been taken advantage of by church officials, including being called in with short notice to run the church sound board on July 24.

According to the complaint, Shepard was arrested Wednesday and admitted to investigators that he not only started the fire on July 27 but also vandalized the church on the night of July 23 by throwing mop water onto the floor and unplugging the church refrigerator.

Shepard said he entered the church through the choir door on July 27 and used one-fourth of a bottle of candle oil to help light the fire in a closet. He told investigators he saw flames, shut the closet door and left the church. The fire caused extensive smoke damage throughout the church.

Itasca County Attorney Jack Muhar said Thursday that he wasn’t aware of any previous criminal record or activity by Shepard.

United Methodist Church Pastor Marva Jean Hutchens said the congregation was able to worship in the church’s fellowship hall Sunday and that cleaners have readied the main church for a wedding Saturday and service on Sunday.

Hutchens said Shepard was dismissed as church janitor more than two years ago.

Shepard’s next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Duluth News Tribune

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