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Man charged in LDS Church fires did it because of 'righteous anger', police say

church fire web.png
Posted at 2:24 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 16:39:21-04

ST. GEORGE, Utah — A man charged with setting fires at three churches in St. George on Tuesday told police that "righteous anger" was his motive.

Benjamin James Johnson, 36, was charged Wednesday with two counts of arson, failing to stop at the command of police, damaging a jail, spitting on an officer and reckless driving.

READ: Man arrested after several LDS churches catch fire in St. George

According to court documents released Wednesday, Benjamin Johnson kept calling himself "Joshua" during his interview at the police station and told officers he was a type of deity.

Police say, while speaking with detectives, Johnson admitted to setting "three" churches on fire and described his behavior as "righteous anger".

Police also said during the interview, Johnson spit on one detective and damaged some property in the interview room he was in.

According to authorities, around 4:00 a.m. Tuesday the St. George Fire Department got a fire alarm call from the church at 1295 South 3000 East. A short time later, dispatch received calls of a tree on fire at another church near at River Road and Rustic Drive.

Police officers started checking other nearby churches and noticed smoke coming from a building at 1762 South River Road. An officer spotted a white minivan parked at the church and saw a man exiting the building.

Officers said the suspect, later identified as Johnson, sped off and they started to chase. As the he fled on Interstate 15, officers ahead laid spike strips on the road, puncturing the suspect's tires.

After crossing into Zion National Park, police said, his van crashed and caught on fire, allowing officers to take him into custody. He was taken to the hospital with minor injuries before being released into police custody.