RIO RANCHO, New Mexico — A serial arsonist has been nabbed for allegedly trying to burn down a New Mexico church just a week after being let loose from jail, authorities said.
Gordon Schuler, 23, has been charged with setting fire to the Peace Lutheran Church in Rio Rancho in the early hours of July 31. Fortunately, a fire crew leaving a nearby hospital, spotted the smoke and were able to snap into action quickly.
Officials say that likely saved the building, but the interior of the church was very badly damaged, prosecutors said.
Police immediately suspected Schuler, a known firebug who had just been released on probation on July 25 on charges related to two arson fires last year.
Authorities say Schuler has been eyed in up to 10 arson fires in the Rio Rancho area but hasn;t been charged in all of them due to lack of sufficient evidence.
An investigation revealed that a video surveillance camera from a nearby business captured footage of Schuler carrying a backpack and hammer the night of the fire. A backpack and hammer were recovered in the ashes of the fire.
Schuler has been charged with using fire to damage or destroy a building used in interstate commerce, as the church sends more than 2% of its revenue to a central Lutheran church in Wisconsin.
He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.