The New York Police Department said Wednesday night that a 37-year-old man from New Jersey had been detained after a security guard at St. Patrick's Cathedral stopped him inside the historic Catholic church's doors with two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid, and two lighters.
The security guard called the police, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said at a press conference outside St. Patrick's, and police officiers found and confronted him a few blocks away. The man had parked his minivan on Fifth Avenue and walked around a bit before returning to the vehicle to get the flammable paraphernalia and head into the cathedral, Miller said. When confronted by police, "his basic story was that he was cutting through the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue, that his car had run out of gas. We took a look at the vehicle. It was not out of gas."
The man is known to the police and may be mentally unstable, the New York Daily News reports. Miller would not speculate on whether the man was inspired by the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris just two nights earlier. "It's hard exactly to say what his intentions were," Miller said. "But I think the totality of circumstances, of an individual walking into an iconic location like St. Patrick's Cathedral, carrying over four gallons of gasoline, two bottles of lighter fluid, and lighters, is something that we would have great concern over."