MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A 27-year-old man was charged Monday with two counts of arson in connection with a fire set at a St. Paul church.
Gregory Louis Knox, of St. Paul, is accused of starting a fire at Saint Mark Lutheran Church at 550 West 7th Street on the morning of Dec. 12.
According to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, investigators say two fires were set in the church: one in a break room garbage can, and another in the file cabinet in the pastor’s office.
The pastor told investigators that he suspected Knox as the culprit. Knox started coming to the church, from which he lived a block away from, in July. He sought help with finding a job, and befriended the church’s cook.
But Knox was no longer welcomed in the church by October after a string of thefts, including items taken from two separate purses and the cook’s cell phone – which was later recovered and contained selfies taken by Knox.
The cook told police that Knox had come back to the church the day before the fire, but was not allowed inside.
Several witnesses then saw Knox near the church the next morning, including a neighbor who saw Knox walking away from — but looking back at — the smoking building.
Neighbors have suspected Knox of starting fires in the area in the last year, and the St. Paul Fire Department says he has made several false emergency calls in the past.
Knox went to talk with police a few hours after the fire, and claimed he was sleeping during the time of the incident, but woke up around 8 a.m. to take his sister’s kids to the bus stop.
He volunteered a DNA sample to police, which the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is testing against a brick that was used to break into the church.
A warrant has been issued for his arrest. He could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of both charges.