Fort Worth

Fort Worth man named as suspect in fire at Fort Worth church

Authorities have identified a 21-year-old Fort Worth man as a suspect in a fire and vandalism at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church, near the Texas Christian University campus.
Authorities have identified a 21-year-old Fort Worth man as a suspect in a fire and vandalism at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church, near the Texas Christian University campus.

A man who was seen pushing a cart that had been in St. Stephen Presbyterian Church is a suspect in a fire and vandalism at the church, a fire official said Monday.

The suspect, Jonathan Jimenez, 21, of Fort Worth was booked into the Fort Worth Jail at 10 a.m. Sunday, a few hours after police and firefighters responded to the church.

Jimenez was arrested on outstanding warrants, but he is under investigation in connection with the fire at the church, 2700 McPherson Ave., near the Texas Christian University campus.

Food and containers had been stacked on a stove and torched Sunday morning. In addition, windows were shattered, furniture was broken and books were ripped apart.

“The case is still under investigation,” Fort Worth fire department spokesman Kyle Clay said Monday in a telephone interview when asked if there would be more arrests.

The vandalism and fire at the century-old church early Sunday forced church officials to cancel morning services. But the congregation came together for a special service at the church Sunday afternoon.

“God is with us in times of trial, as well as good times,” the Rev. Dr. Frederick “Fritz” Ritsch III told the crowd of about 300 gathered at the service, a vigil. “We will continue our mission. We will be stronger because of this crisis.”

The break-in occurred about 4:30 a.m. Sunday at the church, 2700 McPherson Ave.

Fort Worth police said the call came in as a burglary and numerous police cars quickly arrived at St. Stephen, where officers noticed smoke coming from the building, said Daniel Segura, police spokesman.

“There are obvious signs that someone intended to start a fire,” fire Lt. Kyle Falkner said Sunday. “It looks like it was found early enough.”

Police did not know whether the vandalism was the act of one person or more, but a preliminary report indicated a witness told police about seeing a man running toward McCart Avenue, not far from the church.

Ritsch said it is hard to understand what would motivate someone to damage the church.

“This is disturbingly violent and uncomfortable,” Ritsch said after the Sunday service. “But this is a congregation that pulls together in crisis.”

Beth Fultz, director of Christian education, said she believes the vandalism was a message: “We don’t like you. We’re mad, and you’re going to be an example.”

St. Stephen is more than 100 years old and has served the city — including the homeless — for years, according to the church website.

In 2007, St. Stephen and Broadway Baptist Church co-founded the Room in the Inn ministry. It has since grown to about 20 churches, which provide shelter to the homeless during the hottest and coldest months of the year.

Church members said they do not think the vandalism was committed by any of those they serve.

Domingo Ramirez Jr.: 817-390-7763, @mingoramirezjr

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