Florida

Threats during church service, decapitating a statue and wrecking a sign, all in a week’s work

Police say Jorge Arizamendoza decapitated an 875-year old statue of King Alphonso VII at North Miami Beach’s Ancient Spanish Monastery.
Police say Jorge Arizamendoza decapitated an 875-year old statue of King Alphonso VII at North Miami Beach’s Ancient Spanish Monastery.

Church members had just gotten to the Prayers of the People part of the Sunday Mass when they were remembering the victims of the recent massacre in Orlando when Jorge Arizamendoza stormed into the chapel “and began to rant.”

“He said he was going to shoot me and anyone who stayed in the church,” said the Rev. Gregory Mansfield, rector at St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church, which meets in North Miami Beach’s Ancient Spanish Monastery. “The fact that this man came in right on the heels of Orlando was scary.”

Though scary, his presence wasn’t a surprise.

Three days before his church service disruption — which ended in his arrest — police say he destroyed the church sign in the front of the monastery and the next day decapitated an 875-year-old statue.

Mansfield said Arizamendoza — who was known by staff as receiving assistance for the homeless — told the monastery manager that he’d be there Sunday.

Police officers were waiting.

“We are very grateful that they were there and responded so quickly,” Mansfield said.

Arizamendoza, 33, of Maryland, was being held Monday in the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on a $75,000 bond. He faces charges including aggravated assault at a religious institution, disturbing religious assembly, two counts of criminal mischief at a place of worship and burglary of an unoccupied dwelling.

According to an arrest report, Arizamendoza began his bizarre crime on Thursday after buying a $10 admission ticket to tour the monastery, which was built in the 12th century in Spain and which was brought, piece by piece, to the United States by William Randolph Hearst after the monastery had closed.

Arizamendoza toured the monastery. When he left, police say, he went to the parking lot, and screamed at someone that they shouldn't be conducting church Masses on the grounds. Police say he then picked up a rock and threw it at the electric sign, causing about $2,000 in damage, and then drove away.

The next day, around 2 a.m., according to police, Arizamendoza was back again — this time he pried open a back iron gate with a tool, hopped a fence and then used the same tool to decapitate the 875-year-old statue of Spanish King Alphonso VII from 1141 A.D.

Last year, Arizamendoza posted a photo of himself on Facebook in front of the same statue.

On Sunday, he showed up again, this time during the 10:15 morning Mass. Mansfield said there were about 140 members in the sanctuary. When he first entered, some church members ran out, while others on the altar froze, Mansfield said.

“He asked who the priest was and I stood up,” Mansfield said. “I tried to keep him talking.”

It wasn’t long before Arizamendoza was placed in handcuffs and escorted out.

“People come to a house of worship as a sanctuary,” Mansfield said. “No one expects this to happen.”

The Right Rev. Peter Eaton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, who rushed to the church after hearing the news, said: “Anytime that there is an incident like this we are all very concerned. Churches are places where people need to be safe.”

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