Man charged in church fire
East Side blaze was set to erase break-in evidence, authorities say
Saturday, September 16, 2006
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
The man charged with torching an East Side church this month set the blaze to cover up a break-in, authorities said.
Mark McFarland, 35, whose last known address was 2915 Sherwood Rd., was charged yesterday with arson, breaking and entering and vandalism in the Sept. 6 fire that heavily damaged the Macedonian Orthodox Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.
"He tried to lift a safe but it was too heavy," said Columbus arson investigator Mike De-Francisco. "Then he realized his fingerprints were all over the place, so he set the fire."
The church at 120 S. Napoleon Ave., commonly known as St. Maryís, was discovered ablaze at 5:25 a.m. Investigators soon determined the fire was started in multiple places inside and found signs that someone had broken into the church. The damage was estimated at $400,000.
Authorities have said the church had been burglarized before.
Franklin County Municipal Court records show McFarland was arrested two days after the fire and charged with breaking into the church about a month earlier, on Aug. 1. That case was pending when the latest charges were brought against him.
Fire Battalion Chief Doug Smith said evidence recovered at the church, as well as information gleaned from informants, led investigators to McFarland.
Authorities brought McFarland in at 2 p.m. yesterday for a polygraph, Smith said.
"He did confess to the arson," Smith said.
Records show that McFarland has lived at several addresses near the church, including a home on S. Napoleon Avenue.
He has a criminal record going back more than 15 years. He has been in prison at least three times for receiving stolen property, state prison records show.
His mother, Linda McFarland, said she last spoke to her son about a month ago and was unaware that he was suspected in the church fire.
"I just donít know what to say," she said.
She said her son worked intermittently and often was transient. She declined further comment.
The St. Maryís congregation, which formed in 1958, built the sanctuary in 1965. A new $4.5 million cathedral, at 400 S. Waggoner Rd. in Reynoldsburg, is to be consecrated Oct. 22. The church that burned was to be leased to help pay for the new cathedral.
Daniel K. Balaloski, a church trustee, said it is too early to say what will become of the old church.
"One way or another, weíre not going to leave an abandoned shell there," Balaloski said.
"Itís really sad it had to come to this," he said. "According to the fire investigator, he was just trying to cover his tracks."
Though parishioners are looking forward to the new cathedral, many view the loss of the old church as a blow to their religious past, he said.
"The way a church is consecrated, itís almost like a human being, a living being," he said. "Our whole history just went up in smoke."
Dispatch reporter Bruce Cadwallader contributed to this report.