BONNERS FERRY, Idaho — A contractor from northern Idaho has been charged with setting fire to the Catholic church in his town and burning it to ground last year.
Federal prosecutors say Shane Rucker, 33, of Bonners Ferry, entered St. Ann’s Catholic Church alight last April 21, and set fires in three places in the basement, starting a blaze that eventually consumed the entire building.
Rucker, who has a lengthy rap sheet with arrests for burglary, drugs and domestic violence, was charged in federal court in Coeur D’Alene on Friday with destroying religious property under the Church Arson Prevention Act. He was held without bail and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The law was passed in 1996 in response to a spate of arson attacks on black churches in the south. Authorities did not publicly disclose a motive and the indictment against was sealed by the judge.
Father Carlos Perez said the church had been vandalized a month before the alleged arson, with the sanctuary desecrated with satanic symbols and a cross stolen from the tabernacle. A Lutheran Church in the area was also vandalized at the time.
“As a priest I pray confession for him because I know he is a human being,” Perez told the Bonners Ferry Herald. “But he has to pay for his mistake. I tell you, we didn’t do anything to him and he has no idea how many people are suffering from his actions.”
He said the church is used by about 150 families and the Diocese of Boise said it had served the community for over 100 years. While insurance will cover a substantial part of the cost to rebuild, church officials say they will have to raise over $500,000 themselves to make up for the shortfall.
The congregation is currently using a group of temporary trailers for services.