Arson third attack on PSL church
By Geoff Oldfather and Jason Geary staff writer
January 2, 2004

PORT ST. LUCIE -- A New Year's Eve arson attack against a popular church and school -- the third incident of vandalism there in a week -- had the director of the school baffled and upset over who is carrying out the attacks and why.

"I have no idea, none at all quite frankly, but if it's against Morningside I want it stopped and if it's against churches I want it stopped before these people go somewhere else and do this," said Bill Turner, principal and director of Morningside Academy, a school that is a part of Morningside Friends Church, 2180 S.E. Morningside Boulevard.

In the latest attack, someone broke into a modular building used as a classroom for about 30 third-graders and set a fire sometime between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Turner said the fire set off the sprinkler and alarm system and firefighters were able to quickly control the blaze, but not before the room was heavily damaged by smoke.

Police said the fire was set while people congregated at the nearby church in a late night New Year's celebration.

"There has been no indication that they tried to harm anybody; everything has been done after hours or away from people," police Commander Scott Bartal said.

However, Bartal said the fire is linked to previous acts of vandalism done to terrorize the school's nearby church.

"They have no idea who would do this to them," Bartal said.

Hours before the fire broke out, an officer scared away a suspected arsonist apparently intent on torching the church's family worship center.

The officer was patrolling the church grounds at 2:51 a.m. Wednesday and found that plywood covering a previous break-in had been removed, Bartal said.

Inside was a gallon of gasoline and oil and a lighter, he said. The officer noticed the shadow of a person on the wall but the person was not caught, he said.

The first incident was discovered at 7:30 a.m. Christmas Day.

A wooden cross was sawed off from the church's lawn and place upside down in the courtyard. A 3-foot-tall "Barbie" doll was nailed to it. The doll's face was painted black; a hexagram and a "goat face" were painted on its chest.

Both symbols have significance in the satanic faith, Bartal said.

Messages were painted on the wall including "Merry Christless," "Hail to the fallen prince" and "ICP" -- or Insane Clown Posse, a rap group, Bratal said.

The family worship center was also burglarized and its Christmas tree and other items knocked over, he said.

Turner said the church is working hard to restore the damaged classroom and vowed that officials won't be deterred from starting school on Monday.

"I expect the classroom to be ready, and if it's not we have one or two other options we can use for a day or two until it is," Turner said. "In light of what's happened, yes, we'll keep security on."

Investigators have questioned several suspects but no arrests have been made, Bartal said.

Those with information are asked to call Detective Daniel Herrington at 871-5000.

- jason.geary@scripps.com