A 37-year-old man was charged Thursday with attempted arson, reckless endangerment and trespassing after he walked into St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Wednesday with two full gasoline cans, lighter fluid and lighters, police said.
The incident occurred two days after a massive fire severely damaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, causing global shock and sorrow. That blaze was most likely the result of an accident though a major investigation is under way.
A New York City Police Department official said Marc Lamparello was charged with second-degree attempted arson, second-degree reckless endangerment and trespassing on Thursday after he entered the Roman Catholic cathedral in midtown Manhattan just before 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) on Wednesday and was confronted by a security guard.
As the man turned to leave, gasoline spilled onto the floor and the guard alerted police officers stationed outside.
Lamparello is a resident of New Jersey and a faculty member in the philosophy department at the City University of New York, according to the university's website. Local media reported that he has previously been arrested in New Jersey for trespassing.
He has no arrest record in New York, a New York Police Department official said.
It was not immediately clear if Lamparello had a lawyer.
Officers caught up with Lamparello on Wednesday and he was taken into custody after questioning, said John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism for the NYPD.
"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 we would have grave concern over," Miller told reporters.
Asked if terrorism was a possible motive in the incident, Miller said Wednesday it was "too early to say that." But, alluding to worldwide publicity about the Notre Dame fire, he added: "This is an indicator of something that would be very suspicious."
Lamparello's alleged arson attempt comes only a few weeks after a man was arrested and charged with arson and hate crimes for burning down three predominantly African-American churches in Louisiana between March 26 and April 4.
Lamparello told police he was taking a short cut through the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue from 5th Avenue to return to his van, which had run out of gasoline, Miller said.
When police checked the vehicle they found it was not out of fuel, at which point the man was arrested, he said. "He is known to police and we are looking into his background. We don't know what his mindset was, what his motive was."
St. Patrick's, a neo-gothic church across from Rockefeller Center, has stood in the heart of Manhattan since 1879 and is considered one of the most important symbols of the Catholic Church in the United States.